From disciplinarity to research processes

September 19, 2010

Sometimes a number of factors such as postgraduate study and a shift in career focus conspire to make you mixing in different circles. Seeing people work in different contexts or shifting between them or attempting to make a team work with people from very different professional backgrounds can give some interesting insights. A number of the people I know no longer identify themselves as coming from a particular discipline, some name several disciplines and claim to be card holding members of each, others are strictly members of one and always will be.

The terminology seems to get a bit blurred, with profession, discipline and job each being labels that can be applied to the central nature a person’s work. Whole academic careers have been devoted to exploring and explaining the differences between these terms and also to continuing the conversation about the differences between disciplines with the terms multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, meta-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary studies etc. If discipline is the generation of knowledge and profession is the application of knowledge then is there is the potential for yet another disconnect between players which in the end may not serve the purpose of finding solutions to shared problems.
One theme has been to look at so called bridging sciences for guidance. Youngblood makes it clear that just bringing insights together but not integrating them is multi-disciplinary studies, it is the focus on research process that creates the integration that makes the work interdisciplinary. She suggests that having a common purpose, avoiding turf wars and putting the emphasis on process are winning strategies. “What interdisciplinary studies can therefore learn from the bridging disciplines is the importance of not becoming a domain, as domain creates territory and territory creates niche dominance. Instead, focus on the process of finding solutions to problems and answers to important questions.” If big problems need integrated thinking, then putting effort into new research processes is important and a single discipline should not try to hold its own methodology, methods and tools too tightly. The point is that it is the drive to create new research processes, not the creation of (yet another) discipline that counts.

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