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Toward Interdisciplinarity

The new material and human arrangements brought about by globalization, long-standing processes dramatically intensified and speeded up since the end of World War II, have contributed substantially to the changing intellectual borders of disciplines. This has prompted perhaps the increasing emphasis on the "social" rather than the "science" of many social scientists, the turn to ethnography by a growing number of humanists, and the appreciation of affective aesthetic and expressive forms by many in both the humanities and the social sciences. The interdisciplinarity to which this points is not some other word for "pluralism" but rather is emerging as a result of the difficult, entangled, and ongoing problems that demonstrate the need to find better interpretive tools and complex models of cultural and human exchange and new arrangements of knowledge. As with any paradigm shift, these new structures of thinking about novel and emergent global arrangements inevitably illuminate ancillary areas of inquiry—including many different configurations of premodern studies that have taken on new focus and energy by contact with post-colonial and global theory. If culture is the traditional site of the humanities, humanities has traditionally restricted culture to its national delimitations. By contrast, contemporary interdisciplinary humanities takes up culture as a critical diagnostic for comprehending life in the wake of globalization. It registers the contradictions and complexes of globalization, offering horizons for understanding through reflection and interpretation. It denaturalizes sedimented ways of knowing by offering novel categories of analysis and comprehension and new catalogs of cultural archive.

This broadened frame, in turn, has begun to erode the wider boundaries between the humanities and social sciences just as newly emerging questions have begun to soften the traditionally hard lines between the sciences, technology, the humanities, the social sciences, and even the arts. The National Science Foundation in the United States, for instance, is insisting in the early 2000s that proposals for engineering new digital technologies demonstrate their constitutive human and community benefits, a mandate that in turn is driving new collaborative engagements between technologists, humanists, social scientists, lawyers, and artists to mutually transformative effect.

Disciplinarity, then, is an institutional creation, forged out of specific histories, in specific places. It has offered an anchor in the face of increasing epistemological dubitability as disciplinary influences and effects have traveled, circulating between metropolitan and colonial sites. What has come to be marked as interdisciplinary practice prompts objects of analysis more diffuse and multiplicitous, more fully prompted than those disciplinarily driven. These objects of analysis are less likely (at least thus far) to be implied by the histories of their intellectual practice and range. Rather, interdisciplinary objects of analysis in social, cultural, and humanistic thinking tend to be concerns identified as abundant in social and cultural life in various geopolitical sites. That the objects and modes of analysis can no longer simply be said to be fueled by the extension of European interests and assumptions is indicative as much of the shift in intellectual dispositions as it is a function of dramatic developments in globalized arrangements of capital and, consequently, of persons. Interdisciplinary practice that has become such an index of contemporary thinking is marked accordingly by the appeal of multiple methodologies and by broader scope and styles of question.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Incomplete dominance to IntuitionismInterdisciplinarity - Humanities And Social Sciences, Creating Disciplines, Toward Interdisciplinarity, Models For Interdisciplinarity, Interdisciplinarity As A Critical Project