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59 Interdisciplinary Studies and the Myth of Disciplinary Capaciousness Peter Sin n em a • Practitioners of Victorian studies have a right to congratulate themselves on their field’s disciplinary inclusiveness. History, literature, science, politics , culture, art, economics, and mass media are just some of the disciplinary fields that have been embraced by Victorian studies over the past three or four decades. Indeed, the study of these subjects—and, as importantly, their complex interrelations—may be said to be constitutive of contemporaryVictorian studies, suggesting that the latter is now essentially (if not inherently) interdisciplinary. New publications in the area support this point. For every literary (what we English scholars might call“traditional”) study of canonized authors such as the Brontës or Dickens that crossed my desk in six years as book review editor for Victorian Review, at least two titles with an emphasis on social or scientific culture also appeared.The major academic presses supporting series in nineteenth-century/Victorian studies, or that have a history of publishing a significant number of titles in the field—I think in particular of presses such as Cambridge, Ohio, Ashgate, Palgrave-Macmillan, and Virginia—are clearly dedicated to bringing out books on virtually all aspects ofVictorian life: Pictorial Victorians,On Exhibit: Victorians and their Museums,The Victorian Parlour,and Serializing Fiction in the Victorian Press are a few recent titles representative of an intellectual ecumenicalism that appears all the more remarkable when we consider that these books employ interpretive strategies as varied as feminism, Marxism, new historicism, post-colonialism, and psychoanalysis. Commenting on the ways in which Victorian studies has “absorbed and then foregrounded new ways of thinking,” Linda Shires concludes that our discipline “has been not just capacious, but even rapacious” in its aggressive drive to assimilate different political views and modes of understanding (482). As Shires’s language intimates, however, there may be risks to advertising Victorian Studies as a standard-bearer and custodian for interdisciplinary studies based solely on the fact that the field is now firmly committed to diverse social and cultural approaches that would have been unthinkable half a century ago. IfVictorian studies may legitimately indulge in self-congratulation for its various disciplinary incorporations and amalgamations, its tendency to celebrate a more predatory, unreflective digestion of formerly sovereign disciplines results in obfuscation about the concept of interdisciplinarity itself.The rather obvious thesis I offer below is intended as a reminder of the problems that can arise if Victorian studies models itself uncritically on an oversimplified comprehension of interdisciplinary studies as purely a matter of annexation and augmentation—a model that my own institution applied a few years ago when it folded a number of humanities and social sciences departments, victorian review • Volume 33 Number 1 60 some of them struggling with low enrolments and identity crises after years of underfunding, into an Office of Interdisciplinary Studies that now oversees their activities through a governance structure composed of advisory councils and program directors. In this instance, administrators were not wholly successful in convincing faculty and students of formerly independent departments like comparative literature and religious studies that this bold initiative in interdisciplinarity was much more than yet another exercise in cost-cutting through a concentration and centralization of managerial powers. The idea that interdisciplinary studies is a form of pluralism achieved through a series of disciplinary mergers results in nothing more than an expediency model of interdisciplinarity. Here, then, is the point I believe we need to keep constantly in mind as we undertake our interdisciplinary research: Interdisciplinarity does not equal capaciousness. Interdisciplinary studies is not simply a happy amalgamation of previously discrete and autonomous disciplinary viewpoints, types of expertise, or, in administrative argot,“units.”This, as I have said, results in an expediency model highly attractive to economizers.To conceive of disciplinary multiplication under the auspices ofVictorian studies or cultural studies as a genuinely interdisciplinary exercise is to confuse the self-conscious, correlational work implied by the Latin preposition“inter” with a kind of heedless proliferation. The question to be asked, then, is not how many disciplinary flavours need to be added to the broth to create a genuinely interdisciplinary confection, but what is the nature of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 59-61
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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