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23 Chapter Disciplining Knowledge 2 The realities of today’s academic organizations oblige observers of higher education to study interdisciplinarity and disciplinarity in point and counterpoint. Most scholars define the locus of interdisciplinarity as the integration of disciplinary perspectives. Moreover, understanding how interdisciplinarity is received, and how it is conceived, depends on an understanding of the nature of academic disciplines and their influence on faculty life in colleges and universities . Despite their relative youth—the academic disciplines we know today are largely the products of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—the disciplines are institutionally entrenched and cannot be ignored. But the study of interdisciplinarity directs our attention to aspects of disciplines and disciplinary knowledge that often remain hidden. The very thought of disciplinary integration forces us to consider the assumptions and conventions that define particular disciplines and that make them similar to or different from others. Disciplines are complex phenomena. They can be defined as sets of problems, methods, and research practices or as bodies of knowledge that are unified by any of these. They can also be defined as social networks of individuals interested in related problems or ideas. The first definition stresses the infrastructure of the disciplines, the second their social, cultural, and historical dimensions. While most stud- creating interdisciplinarity 24 ies of academic work stress one or the other of these foci, neither is complete in isolation. Those who believe the key to understanding the disciplines is to identify and examine their basic structures share the premise that, regardless of differences in particulars, all disciplines share different classes of components , such as content or method. These analyses provide a number of important insights into the nature of the disciplines and can also illuminate interdisciplinarity . They tend, however, to downplay or even ignore the historical and cultural dimensions of disciplinarity. Poststructuralist analysis shifts our attention from the structural to the cultural and sociohistorical and reminds us that structures such as content and methods are socially constructed; they exist as expressions of human ideas and are subject to change. In the study of the disciplines , these two approaches, despite their theoretical antagonism, tend to align on an uneasy continuum. Structural analyses of the disciplines do not completely discount the cultural: they focus on the disciplinary community and on its norms and practices, as well as on disciplinary components such as methods. Similarly poststructural accounts of the disciplines implicitly acknowledge structures when they highlight power differentials associated with various epistemologies and methodologies. Each framework has its limitations. Structuralist accounts of disciplinarity define the discipline as a framework for understanding and interpreting information and experience, for judging the validity and adequacy of solutions to problems by defining what is acceptable , appropriate, and/or useful. Implicit in this model is a role for the individual, who interprets, judges, etc., and a role for the disciplinary community , which maintains disciplinary boundaries. But structural views tend to focus on how human agency is constrained by influences external to the individual . In abstracting and decontextualizing disciplinary components, structural depictions downplay or ignore the interaction of structures and cultures and give a false impression that the disciplines are characterized primarily by structures that promote conformity and stability. In the structuralist scenario disciplinary change is resisted unless it is in approved directions and influence appears unidirectional: the community is shaped by the discipline. In contrast a poststructuralist perspective directs our attention to the community , portraying the discipline as a heterogeneous social system composed of individuals with varying commitments to ideas, beliefs, and methodolo- 25 disciplining knowledge gies—and to one another. By focusing on the communal construction of meaning , the existence of multiple perspectives, and the linkage of individual perspectives to social processes, poststructuralism replaces the idea of a structure with the more fluid concept of a space in which persons and ideas exist in relation to one another. Because meanings are seen as socially constructed, disciplines are sites of ontological, epistemological, methodological tensions, and these tensions animate structures such as subject matter and methods. The structural perspective abstracts underlying frameworks that are believed to define a phenomenon, while the poststructural approach eschews abstraction and attends to the local and the particular, which are time and context bound. All ways of seeing are, of course, selective. They emphasize a particular perspective over others and in doing so limit our field of vision. If the danger inherent in structural analyses is that the discipline becomes monolithic, with tightly controlled boundaries and conventions, the siren call of...


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