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Humanities And Social Sciences, Creating Disciplines, Toward Interdisciplinarity, Models For Interdisciplinarity, Interdisciplinarity As A Critical Project

The development of innovative and creative ideas in the academy is taking place in the early 2000s largely across departmental and disciplinary divides. Intradisciplinary practice tends to be microfocused and piecemeal. Innovation proceeds intradisciplinarily, where it proceeds at all, mostly in small if not minute increments. Departmental institutionalization itself has been transforming, prompted by interdisciplinary practice. This is the case whether one considers the sciences or humanities, technology development or the arts, or the social or applied sciences. Universities continue to organize themselves around discrete departments of mathematics, physics, biology, or computer science, schools of engineering, and professional colleges, to be sure. Science research, however, tends to occur collectively and collaboratively. Laboratories (for example, in bioinformatics or in nanoscience) require teams of researchers with more or less wide-ranging field training, methodologies, techniques, and technological expertise. Experiments, discoveries, and research outcomes in the sciences may be attributed to the individual lab as much as to the traditional disciplines or departmental structures. Departments profit too from the results of these interdisciplinary research labs (not least from the external grant funding they generate). Hiring in the sciences consequently is often made between multiple departments and increasingly with interdisciplinary research goals in mind.

Where the sciences have been largely fearless in leading, the social sciences and the humanities have tended to follow, if for their own reasons. Schools or colleges of constitutively interdisciplinary applied social science programs have become increasingly popular, often supplemented by resident historians or philosophers or, increasingly, cultural analysts. A similar mutually constitutive relationship has been unfolding in U.S. universities between core humanities departments and interdisciplinary humanistic inquiry.

While interdisciplinarity has become de rigueur, at least rhetorically, more widespread acknowledgment and institutional credit nevertheless has been much slower in the making. An interdisciplinary model, humanistic or social scientific or more compellingly erosive of that divide, requires a shift from largely contained and constrained, field-specific themes and methods to problem-or issue-based objects of analysis, more or less unbounded questions, and multifaceted methodologies. This latter disposition likewise tends to be less figured around national imaginaries or boundaries than has largely been the case in many humanistic fields in the past. It concerns itself consequently more with contact, flows of ideas, and cultural intersections than with the cultural heritage of nationally defined and fixed products.

This newly emergent model accordingly can be considered an intellectual byproduct of globalization. Social thinking and the humanities as a result have been transformed in unexpected and unpredictable ways. For example, the renaissance of classical studies in the early twenty-first century has flowed from the merging of traditional linguistic and historical studies of specifically located areas in the ancient world with archaeology enhanced by new techniques of digital imaging and an expansive political geography. These interactive developments have transformed the map of the ancient world by asking questions posed by critical race theory, gender studies, or post-colonial theory in addition to the more traditional interrogations of objects, texts, and images from the period in question. Similarly, the latter-day emergence of oceanic or regional studies is a function not only of the implosion of area studies but also of the perceived limits of disciplinary determinations in the face of complex thematic and problem-driven research foci.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Incomplete dominance to Intuitionism