Interdisciplinarity

mickyates ContextualResearch, Critical Research Journal, Ethics, Ideas, Insight, Photography, PositionsPractice, PPWeek2 Leave a Comment

The theme of Week Two is close to my heart, as I am Visiting Professor at the Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (IDEA CETL) at the University of Leeds.

In 1985, I was also one of Procter & Gamble’s first General Managers leading a multinational team across Europe, which included multiple disciplines – marketing, finance, manufacturing, product development, research and sales.

The role of a General Manager or CEO is to lead multiple disciplines. Of course, these disciplines need in turn to be led by real experts in their fields.

However, in my view there is a distinct difference between ‘multidisciplinary’ and ‘interdisciplinary’. Strictly, multidisciplinary means that various disciplines are needed, depending on the task at hand. Yet there is a danger that disciplines remain in silos, slowing down problem solving, and in the most extreme cases, fostering ‘turf wars’ between disciplines.

Interdisciplinary means that novel solutions are created by combining expertise across disciplines. The best analysis of this that I have read is Moti Nassini‘s paper ‘Ten Cheers for Interdisciplinarity

Roland Barthes noted:

Interdisciplinary studies, of which we hear so much, do not confront already constituted discipline … In order to do interdisciplinary work it is not enough to take a “subject” (a theme) and to arrange two or three sciences around it. Interdisciplinary study consists in creating a new object, which belongs to no one’.  (The Rustle of Language, pg 72)

Nissani argues that interdisciplinary knowledge and research are important because:

  1. Creativity often requires interdisciplinary knowledge.
  2. Immigrants often make important contributions to their new field.
  3. Disciplinarians often commit errors which can be best detected by people familiar with two or more disciplines.
  4. Some worthwhile topics of research fall in the interstices among the traditional disciplines.
  5. Many intellectual, social, and practical problems require interdisciplinary approaches.
  6. Interdisciplinary knowledge and research serve to remind us of the unity-of-knowledge ideal.
  7. Interdisciplinarians enjoy greater flexibility in their research.
  8. More so than narrow disciplinarians, interdisciplinarians often treat themselves to the intellectual equivalent of traveling in new lands.
  9. Interdisciplinarians may help breach communication gaps in the modern academy, thereby helping to mobilize its enormous intellectual resources in the cause of greater social rationality and justice.
  10. By bridging fragmented disciplines, interdisciplinarians might play a role in the defense of academic freedom.

And he goes on to say:

‘Compartmentalization, besides lack of education, is the enemy; an enemy that can only be conquered through holistic scholarship and education’

An example that Nassani gives is most appropriate to photography.

‘Foreign observers like Herodotus, de Tocqueville, or Margaret Mead sometimes see cultural aspects which are invisible to the natives. The natives live and breathe their customs; the perceptive foreigner doesn’t. The same goes for the history of ideas: outsiders are less prone to ignore anomalies and to resist new conceptual frameworks.

An outsider’s perspective, then, is particularly valuable at times of crisis. Such times are common’.

A photographer should be able to ‘see’ beyond the vision of ‘insiders’. But does that make photography by definition ‘interdisciplinary? I do not think so.

Photography impacts so many disciplines – science, history, anthropology, ecology, art, cultural studies, business and so on … maybe even all disciplines, today. That is multidisciplinary.

But to be truly interdisciplinary, new ground needs to be created.

I’ll explore that in other articles.

…………………

Barthes, Roland. 1989. The Rustle of Language. Berkeley: University of California Press. Available at: https://monoskop.org/images/8/8a/Barthes_Roland_The_Rustle_of_Language_1989.pdf. (Accessed 11/02/2019).

Nissani, Moti. 1997. Ten Cheers for Interdisciplinarity: The Case for Interdisciplinary Knowledge and Research in The Social Science Journal, Volume 34, Number 2, pages 201-216. Copyright © 1997 by JAI Press Inc.

P&P Week One Reflections

mickyates Cambodia, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Photography, Plans & Notes, PositionsPractice, PPWeek1, Reflections Leave a Comment

Exhilarated. Really excited to be part of an academically strong, creatively challenging program – great faculty, and very talented students.

One of my goals in joining the MA program was to really stretch my understanding of photography in all of its aspects. I have studied the history of photography, even taught a bit on the subject – but I want to move beyond the facts to the feeling of it all.

Really enjoying digging deeper on landscape and the philosophy of the beautiful and the sublime, and (re) reading Kant. Didn’t expect that! In working on the ‘Global Image‘, went back to include some material I had used with PhotoBath to discuss ‘Iconic Images’, as I feel that the concepts are connected. And I had fun re-making of a global image, by reverse engineering it.

Challenged. The other students are really talented. Can I keep up?

Determined. I have always been an avid learner, yet also for a large part of my life, a teacher. I am determined to stay true to both, yet clearly in this context I am a student.

Can I bring something to this, for others? And I am a little concerned that I might become ‘just’ a receiver.

Clear. This week has reinforced my desire to re-visit, re-visualise and re-conceptualise our Cambodia story. It’s also exciting that I just heard that Sarath wants to be a partner in this journey. Now, need to make plans to get to Cambodia, define the project, start taking images – and get it done in this first block.

Confused. The first webinar was fun, and great to see such interesting and diverse views and work from my fellow students. But still, confused. It seemed I wasn’t articulating my thoughts well. Gary seemed perplexed by my thought process, and maybe thought me too ‘closed’ in my approach and ideas?

Nothing could be further from the truth for anyone that knows me. Note to self: try harder to both present and listen.

A Question. Really enjoyed setting up and writing the CRJ. I realise it is early days, and I probably overdid it with so many posts. But does anyone read it?