We cordially invite contributions. The deadline for abstracts is March 15. Please consult the call for papers for a more elaborate formulation of the conference theme.
Many of the most exciting and influential academic ventures today are interdisciplinary. Consequently, as academics we increasingly find ourselves working at epistemic intersections where disciplinary identity may recede into the background, while an interdisciplinary “field,” problem, or theoretical perspective takes center stage. Yet with few exceptions our universities – with their faculties, schools and departments – remain largely structured on the basis of the established disciplines. The peer review system, too, is predominantly disciplinary. Thus while research interests may tempt academics across disciplinary borders and into foreign territories, many eventually return to discover that when their academic careers are concerned, discipline is king.
Difficult and rewarding
Although interdisciplinarity is often treated as a recent arrival – full of fresh promise – , the situation described above is actually quite old. Interdisciplinarity has been around for almost a century now. One could even argue that it is as old as disciplinarity. Looking back at this history – spanning both successful ventures such as biochemistry, cultural studies and area studies, and also many less successful and now forgotten ones – we can learn a number of lessons. Perhaps most importantly: Interdisciplinarity is not like entering the great wide open. Rather than offering an escape from structures and strictures, interdisciplinarity is about adding more layers and connections – increased complexity, more topics, multiple perspectives, colliding vocabularies. As Stanley Fish has put it in the title of an essay on the topic, “Interdisciplinarity Is So Very Hard To Do.” And because applicable quality standards are not readily at hand, there is an increased risk that results may be meager, or worse, dilettantish.
On the other hand, when it works, interdisciplinarity yields huge rewards for all parties involved. It is intellectually stimulating for researchers and students; it allows new topics to be analyzed; it allows intercourse (or at least courtship) between otherwise incommensurable paradigms; it produces not only new knowledge, but new kinds of knowledge, in the process invigorating traditional academia; and in many cases also reaching out to society at large.
Nevertheless, the disciplines persist as the main structural principle of academia. Which makes one wonder: What are disciplines, anyway? Clearly, they are historical constructs, but what made them emerge, and what makes them so endurable? Which functions do the serve? Should they be studied as fields (Bourdieu), as communication systems (Luhmann, Stichweh), as tribes (Geertz, Becher/Trowler), as fractal patterns (Abbott), as epistemic cultures (Knorr-Cerina), or what? Is the "matrix" of established disciplines primarily a coercive arrangement – a Weberian iron cage, a Foucauldian panopticon? Or is it rather a bulwark against a rising tide of dilettantism and science skepticism?
The current situation can be seen as a standoff in which neither the disciplines nor interdisciplinarity gains. If so, the relevant and pressing question is: Are there workable alternatives (functional equivalents) on the horizon by which academia can be reformed? However, it is also possible to view the situation not as a problem at all, but rather as a normal and fruitful interplay, conducive to academic evolution. If successful, interdisciplinary ventures become disciplines in their own right (gender studies, biochemistry) and the rest are either terminated after a while, or kept on as permanent exceptions (usually in the form of centers), all of which is testament to the self-regenerating powers of academia. If so, the relevant question is perhaps: How can universities make this process run more smoothly?
The conference will explore these and related questions, dealing with disciplinarity/ interdisciplinarity in research as well as in higher education.
We invite papers on all topics related to the reflections above, including, for instance:
• The historical emergence and evolution of the disciplines
• The history of individual interdisciplinary fields (e.g. cultural studies, biochemistry)
• The fruitful interplay between disciplines and interdisciplinarity
• The problematic tensions between disciplines and interdisciplinarity
• Disciplines/interdiciplinarity and academic careers
• Disciplines/interdisciplinarity in higher education
• Disciplines/interdisciplinarity and society (media, politics, the economy, etc.)
• The future of disciplines/interdisciplinarity
In conjunction with Sheila Jasanoff’s keynote lecture, there will be a thematic session on the historical development and current disciplinary status of Science and Technology Studies (STS). We invite proposals for papers on any aspects of this topic. Deadline for abstracts: March 15, 2012. Abstracts of 1-2 pages can be mailed to email@example.com.