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Defining Interdisciplinary Studies-Repko 2008

Defining Interdisciplinary Studies-Repko 2008

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05/02/2013

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Defining
InterdisciplinaryStudies
ChapterPreview
Foroveracentury,theAmericaneducationalsystematalllevelshasreliedonacademicdisciplinesasplatformsfromwhichtoimpartknowledgeandtogen-eratenewknowledge.Today,interdisciplinarylearningatalllevelsisfarmorecommonasthereisgrowingrecognitionthatitisneededtoanswercomplexquestions,solvecomplexproblems,andgaincoherentunderstandingofcom-plexissuesthatareincreasinglybeyondtheabilityofanysingledisciplinetoi:J.ddresscomprehensivelyorresolveadequately.AsCaroleL.Palmer(2001)"Thereal-worldresearchproblemsthatscientistsaddressrarelyariseorderlydisciplinarycategories,andneitherdotheirsolutions"(p.vii).Thischapterexplainsthemeaningofinterdisciplinarystudies,definesstudiesandtheterm
interdisciplinarity,
explainstheofinterdisciplinarityandinterdisciplinarystudies,examineshowtermsarevariablyusedtoday,andidentifiesmetaphorscommonlyasso-withinterdisciplinarywork.
TheMeaningofInterdisciplinaryStudies
meaningofinterdisciplinarystudiesorinterdisciplinaritycontinuestocontestedbyitspractitionersandcritics.ButemergingfromthisdebatekeyconceptsaroundwhichconsensusisdevelopingandwhichinformintegrateddefinitionofinterdisciplinarystudiesthatappearsinthisThefollowingdiscussionunpacksthemeaningofthesetermsand,doingso,introducesstudentstosomeofthetheoryundergirdingthisanddiverseacademicfield.
"Discipline"PartofInterdisciplinaryStudies
theuniversity,theterm
discipline
referstoaparticularbranchoforbodyofknowledgesuchasphysics,psychology,orhistory3
 
(Moran,2002,p.2).AccordingtotheAmericanAssociationforHigherEducation(AAHE),disciplineshavecontrastingsubstanceandsyntax...-waysoforganiz-ingthemselvesandofdefiningrulesformakingargumentsandclaimsthatotherswillwarrant.Theyhavedifferentwaysoftalkingaboutthemselvesandabouttheproblems,topics,andissuesthatconstitutetheirsubjectmatters.(Schulman,2002,pp.vi-vii)MaryTaylorHuberandSherwynP.Morreale(2002)addthat"eachdisci-plinehasitsownintellectualhistory,agreements,anddisputesaboutsubjectmatterandmethods"anditsown"communityofscholarsinterestedinteach-ingandlearninginthatfield"(p.2).Disciplinesarealsodistinguishedfromoneanotherbyseveralfactors.Theseincludethequestionsdisciplinesaskabouttheworld,theirperspectiveorworldview,thesetofassumptionstheyemploy,andthemethodstheyusetobuildupabodyofknowledge(facts,concepts,theories)aroundacertainsubjectmatter(Newell&Green,1982,p.25).Disciplinesarescholarlycommunitiesthatdefinewhichproblemsshouldbestudied,advancecertaincentralconceptsandorganizingtheories,embracecertainmethodsofinvestigation,provideforumsforsharingresearchandinsights,andoffercareerpathsforscholars.Adisciplineisaparticularbranchoflearningorbodyofknowledgewhosedefiningelements-i.e.,phenomena,assumptions,epistemology,concepts,theories,andmethods--distinguishitfromotherknowledgeformations.Historyisanexampleofadisciplinebecauseitmeetsalloftheabovecriteria.Itsknowledgedomainconsistsofanenormousbodyof
facts
(everythingthathasbeenrecordedinhumanhistory).Itstudiesanequallyenormousnumberof
conceptsorideas
(imperialism,slavery,democracy,theAmericandream).Itgenerates
theories
aboutwhythingsturnedoutthewaytheydid(e.g.,thegreatmantheoryarguesthattheAmericanCivilWarlastedsolongandwassobloodybecauseofLincoln'sdecisiontoissuetheEmancipationProclamationin1862),thoughmanyhis-toriansstrivetobeatheoretical.Anditusesa
method
thatinvolvescriticalanalysisofprimarysources(i.e.,letters,diaries,officialdocuments,etc.)andsecondarysources(i.e.,booksandarticlesaboutthetopic)topresentapic-tureofpasteventsorpersonswithinaparticulartimeandplace.Therearefourclustersorcategoriesoftraditionaldisciplines,
1
thefirstthreeofwhichareexaminedcloselyinChapter3:
.
The
naturalsciences
(biologyor"lifesciences,"chemistry,Earthsciences,mathematics,andphysics).The
socialsciences
(anthropology,economics,politicalscience,psychology,andsociology)
.
The
humanities
(artandarthistory,history,2literature,music,philos-ophy,andreligiousstudies)
.
The
appliedprofessions
(businessanditssubfields,communications
anditssubfields,criminaljustice,education,engineeringanditsvari-oussubfields,law,socialwork,nursing,andmedicine)
 
~~uu.uo_._-
r
,
-
Disciplinesandtheirdefiningelements,ratherthanbeingrigidandunchangingconstructs,areevolvingsocialandintellectualconstructs,andassuch,aretime-dependent.Thatis,today'sdisciplinemaywellhavebeenyesterday'ssubdisciplineorbranchofanexistingdiscipline.Anexampleistheevolutionofhistory,which,priortothemid-nineteenthcentury,playedaminorroleincollegesasabranchofliteraturebutgrewrapidlyasanindependentdisciplinethatabsorbedthoseaspectsofpoliticsandeconom-icsthathadapastdimension(Kuklick,1985,p.50).Today,historyisawell-entrenchedprofessionaldisciplinethatistypicallyincludedwithinthehumanitiesbutalsohasallegiancestothesocialsciences.Thelinebetweenthedisciplinesandinterdisciplinarityhasbeguntoblurinrecentyearswiththeemergenceofinterdisciplines.Theseincludeawidevarietyofinteractionsrangingfrominformalgroupsofscholarstowell-establishedresearchandteachingcommunities.Frequentlycitedexamplesaresocialpsychologyandbiochemistry,thoughthelistalsoincludesenvironmentalengineering,psycholinguistics,ethno-musicology,culturalanthropology,andAmericanStudies(Klein,1990,p.43).Interdisciplinesdifferfromdisciplinesintermsoftheirorigins,char-acter,status,andlevelofdevelopment.3Forexample,molecularbiologydevelopedinresponsetobreakthroughsfromthediscoveryofthestructureofDNA,newtechnologies,andcomplexresearchproblems.Onlybybring-ingtogethertheskillsandknowledgeofchemists,geneticists,physicists,bacteriologists,zoologists,andbotanistscouldtheproblemsbesolved(Sewell,1989,pp.95-96).Klein(1996)speaksofthe"concealedrealityofinterdisciplinarity"whereinterdisciplinarityisflourishingbutisnotlabeledassuch,asin,forinstance,medicine,agriculture,andoceanography.Thepatternbywhichtheboundaryworkofinterdisciplinarystudiesoperatesoccursinthisway:(1)researchersdetachasubjectorobjectfromexistingdisciplinaryframe-works;(2)theyfillgapsinknowledgefromlackofattentiontothecate-gory;and(3)iftheresearchattainscriticalmass,researchers"redrawboundariesbyconstitutingnewknowledgespaceandnewprofessionalroles"(pp.36-37).Forthepurposesofthisbook,referencesto
disciplines
arelimitedtothetraditionaldisciplinesunlessotherwisenoted.Referencestospecificinter-disciplinesandschoolsofthought(e.g.,feminism,Marxism)areappropri-atelyidentified.
The"Inter"PartofInterdisciplinaryStudies
Theword
interdisciplinary
consistsoftwoparts:
inter
and
disciplinary.
Theprefix
inter
means"between,among,inthemidst."Disciplinarymeans"oforrelatingtoaparticularfieldofstudy"orspecialization.Soastartingpointforthedefinitionof
interdisciplinary
is"betweenfieldsofstudy"
(Stember,
1991,p.4).
Inter
alsomeans"derivedfromtwoormore."

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