Gaurav Desai contributes to our "Interdisciplinarity Now" series by reflecting on his experiences on the selection panel of the Council’s largest fellowship competition, the International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) Program. Desai highlights a number of elements that make a research project interdisciplinary—drawing on the conceptual frameworks and methods of multiple disciplines (especially those fields not immediately proximate to one’s home discipline) and framing the research in ways that would resonate across a range of fields and approaches.
Delia Wendel, a fellow of the SSRC’s International Dissertation Research Fellowship program, demonstrates how spatial and social research strategies can be combined through her work in post-genocide Rwanda. Wendel’s contribution engages issues raised in our "Interdisciplinarity Now" theme through a critical analysis of Rwanda’s villagization policy as part of its peacebuilding efforts after a devastating civil war. Wendel’s work speaks directly to the concerns of the SSRC’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and its blog Kujenga Amani.
Based on intensive research in interdisciplinarity in the natural sciences, Laurel Smith-Doerr and Jennifer Croissant engage the question of gender differences in the practice of interdisciplinary collaboration. This is a topic that receives relatively little attention, and the authors identify mixed signals for women scientists—a catch-22 in which women are, often simultaneously, expected to work in interdisciplinary ways (partly due to gender stereotypes), while also advised that doing so is too risky for career development.
Todd Sanders and Elizabeth Hall bring our debates about interdisciplinarity to climate change, a major global issue for which the need for interdisciplinary perspectives is taken for granted. How, they ask, “do we imagine and practice 'interdisciplinarity’ to save the planet?” The authors describe and critique a range of contrasting modalities for doing interdisciplinary work on climate change and the assumptions under which they operate. Sanders and Hall also reflect on the complexities of studying interdisciplinarity when its practitioners and observers are part of the same milieu—both being “natives” in the world of research.
How Interdisciplinarity Works: Field Theory and the Study of Interactions between History and Sociologyby George Steinmetz
George Steinmetz takes a critical look at how interdisciplinary fields emerge and evolve. Drawing from a larger work-in-progress on how history and sociology have intersected in Europe and the United States, he provides a case study of the meeting of these fields in France before and after World War II. Steinmetz argues interdisciplinary projects tend to be born out of subfields within different disciplines and that successful ones are developed organically among peers rather than engineered from above.
Reflecting on his recent book, Globalizing Knowledge, Michael Kennedy examines the affinities and interconnections between interdisciplinarity and efforts by scholars and institutions to shape global knowledge cultures. The ability to participate in cross-contextual research and debates, and to engage broader publics across boundaries, requires an interdisciplinary sensibility that can enhance scholarly reflexivity and innovation.
David Engerman examines the historical origins and development of “area studies” in the United States as a key example of an interdisciplinary project. He argues that current debates on interdisciplinarity, focusing principally on research output and collaboration, obscure the central role of pedagogy in the development of area studies and the continued relevance of interdisciplinary approaches for teaching and training in today’s academy.
Jennifer Hochschild’s contribution is the first of several essays in our “What Is Inequality?” series that reflect on how university-based programs and institutes promote research and training on inequality. Hochschild outlines how the program she leads at Harvard provides both disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives for the study of social policies that shape or address inequality. She then discusses three understudied substantive dimensions of inequality that demand further attention from students of social policy: deeper knowledge of those at top of the socioeconomic ladder, the relationship between economic and political inequalities, and better understanding of the trade-offs involved when inequality increases within historically marginalized groups.
Drawing on her recent book Anthropological Conversations, Caroline Brettell discusses the history of anthropology’s connections to other disciplines. Through examples of how anthropologists have collaborated with, influenced, and been influenced by historians, geographers, and psychologists, she traces intellectual exchanges that have been productive in understanding culture and difference.