Monday, January 23, 2012

The Twofold Problem of Interdisciplinarity

Working as I have been on a few, related interdisciplinary projects, I have stumbled upon what might very well be obvious (or what should have been obvious). My assumption for the longest time was that the chief difficulty of interdisciplinary work was getting them to let you in. And I was, of course, fine with that: read some books, ask some questions, get conversant, and then feel comfortable enough to make some preliminary claims. There is also helpful scholarship on interdisciplinary work: reminders to read widely and to double-check definitions/uses of terms that might seem familiar but which are being used quite differently.

What I had not counted on as much was the difficulty of getting us to let me out. This problem is perhaps best encapsulated by Walter Ong, who in a review of Marshall McLuhan wrote the following:
His critics often seem to feel that whoever does not stand off from technology and bureaucracy far enough to throw stones at them is betraying the cause of humanity.
There is a fear, within one's own discipline, that when you leave you might very well come back with something unwanted. Imperialism is fine and good; just don't bring back some tropical disease.

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