How do we recognize the interdisciplinary nature of research? In this piece, Jerry Jacobs addresses this question through thinking about the appropriate criteria for evaluating a research proposal. Instead of advocating a single scale, Jacobs argues that a proposal’s interdisciplinary qualities might be considered according to the scope of intellectual sources of the proposed project; the range of skills, methods, and interests drawn upon; and the breadth of potential impact of the research.
Our first featured theme, Interdisciplinarity Now, seeks to explore interdisciplinarity both in rhetoric and in practice. In doing so, it both builds directly on the SSRC’s origins as a catalyst for interdisciplinary inquiry while also holding up the concept of interdisciplinarity to critical scrutiny.
Over the coming months, Items will feature a range of reflections on continuities and transformations in the meaning and uses of interdisciplinarity, the occasionally fraught nature of the relationship between interdisciplinarity and disciplines, analyses of the practice of interdisciplinarity itself, and more.
Harvey Graff challenges the perception that interdisciplinary scholarship is inhibited by disciplines; rather, he argues that they are inextricably connected and mutually dependent. Drawing from the insights of his recent book Undisciplining Knowledge, Graff makes the case that the practice of interdisciplinary research is productively diverse, and should be distinguished from an overarching scholarly ideology of interdisciplinarity.
In recognition of the twentieth anniversary of Open the Social Sciences, Items republishes Immanuel Wallerstein’s essay from 1996 that summarized that report’s key findings. Wallerstein, who chaired the commission that produced Open the Social Sciences, reflects on the nineteenth century origins of the social science disciplines, their historically contingent nature, and the need to transcend the ways in which they divide the production of social knowledge.
When scholars collaborate across disciplines, what shapes their perceptions of that experience? Drawing from their recent research on a range of interdisciplinary networks, Lamont, Boix-Mansilla and Sato find that cognitive and intellectual payoffs tell only part of the story. Emotional and social dimensions to collaboration intertwine with the cognitive in complex ways, while the research environment established by funders creates a frame within which participants experience a sense of achievement across disciplinary divides.
In this brief 1986 essay from the Items archive, David L. Sills, SSRC (and Items) editor from 1973 to 1989, examines the Council’s historical role as a source of the term “interdisciplinary.” Digging into Council records and correspondence, he finds much evidence of debates on interdisciplinarity as a concept, but not (yet) the term itself.