Within, Between, Beyond

Interdisciplinarity is a way of life. It quickly becomes a way of thinking which opens fresh and deeply creative ways of engaging with the world. It builds collaborative bridges, enables the exploration of innovative pathways and marks a general willingness to interact and respond at all levels of living and thinking with an attitude of inquisitive, encouraging and supportive openness.

The explosion of interest in interdisciplinary work over the past two decades is certainly encouraging, but is also not without its problems. Chief among these is the feeling that there are as many definitions of interdisciplinarity as there are courses, programmes, departments and schools with it in their titles. Everyone claims to be doing it: yet no one seems to be able to agree what it is. Nor does there appear to be a consensus about the central features, aspects, methods which might constitute a rough ‘core’ that would let people identify an activity as being interdisciplinary. The other feeling – related in a number of ways – is that interdisciplinarity is the view from nowhere. It encourages generality as opposed to specificity,  sacrifices substance for breadth of understanding, and entails a loss of depth in exchange for a shallow or surface level approach. Interdisciplinarians are, the implication is, jacks of all trades and masters of none.

We are committed to exploring and promoting an inclusive model of what it means to be interdisciplinary. To work in a discipline is to become skilled in a set of methods, understandings and activities which are core to that specific area. You literally become a skilled ‘disciple’. So standing within your discipline, you can look at the way other people belonging to the same discipline work to explore areas and issues of concern. You can look out and examine the way people from other disciplines who are dealing with similar areas and issues (multi-disciplinary) work. And you can reach across and join with others who are reaching out to cross boundaries (cross-disciplinary) to blend and adapt methods and understandings to create new areas of activity (inter-disciplinary). It is about creating the spaces between the disciplines where new ideas, new methods and new fields can be discovered, mapped and explored.

But this alone is not enough. A ‘discipline’ is usually understood as being primarily an academic practice or way of doing things. But plumbing and brick-laying are disciplines. Taking part in a heptathlon means engaging in a number of events or being skilled at a number of (in this case seven) disciplines. Being a journalist is a discipline. As is being a member of the armed forces, the police or being a fire-fighter. This is why we think being interdisciplinary is literally a way of life: it is something we are generally engaged in on a daily basis, and something we are specifically engaged in when doing our line of work or doing a piece of research. Being interdisciplinary means going beyond the disciplines (trans-disciplinary) to form a holistic mosaic which lets us engage with things on a number of different layers and levels.

It is not surprising therefore, that being interdisciplinary seems to carry such a wide range of meanings. Part of what we aim to explore are the methods which would seem to belong to an interdisciplinary approach to the world. How do we, how can we recognise interdisciplinarity? What are key features? What are the key skills? And how do we train and equip people to become interdisciplinary? At the same time, there are a further set of questions. What is the interdisciplinary experience? What does it provide that we cannot find anywhere else? How can we share good practice? How can we grow collaborative partnerships and platforms to further interdisciplinary practice?

We have a 5 year plan to found, implement and grow an Interdisciplinary Accreditation Consortium. We hope such a body or group will encapsulate and embody exemplary interdisciplinary method, behaviour, skills and practice. This is what the Interdisciplinarity strand is committed to exploring and achieving.