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01 JANUARY 2011

New Directions in Interdisciplinarity: Broad, Deep, and Critical

"Before interdisciplinarity in either the disciplinary producing or disciplinary–circumscribing senses could manifest itself, disciplinarity itself had to take on its peculiarly modern form. Any assessment of interdisciplinarity – multi – and trans–, noncritical and critical– will benefit from an appreciation of this background.

Prior to the modern period, learning exhibited a kind of unity that might be called predisciplinary. Aristotle, it is true, introduced distinctions between logic, physics, and ethics, but these were never of a kind to raise the possibility of cross–disciplinary formations such as 'physical ethics.' During the Middle Ages, the division of the artes liberales into grammar, rhetoric, dialectic (the trivium), arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (the quadrivium) ensured that the education of 'free men' included all the knowledge and skills needed to exercise their social roles. Insofar as it existed, disciplinary specialization was present more in the 'servile arts' of artisans and tradesmen. Not even teachers of the liberal arts became specialists in their different branches, because the idea of, for example, possessing arithmetic without grammar would have been considered a deformation of the mind. In the monastery schools, the unfettered pursuit of knowledge was viewed skeptically, criticized as curiositas, and therefore subject to disciplinization in a premodern behavioral sense. Only at the end of the Middle Ages, as the infinite pursuit of disciplinary knowledge took on the character of a spiritual activity, would Renaissance men become necessary to cross boundaries and synthesize diverse areas of learning."

(Robert Frodeman and Carl Mitcham, 2007, p.508)

[1][2] Frodeman, R. and C. Mitcham (2007). "New Directions in Interdisciplinarity: Broad, Deep, and Critical." Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 27(6).


Aristotlearithmetic • artes liberales • artisanastronomy • cross boundaries • cross-disciplinary • curiositas • dialecticdisciplinary knowledgedisciplinary specialisationdisciplinesdiscursive fielddivisionethicsEuropean Renaissance • free men • geometrygrammarinterdisciplinarityknowledgeknowledge integrationlearningliberal artslogicmiddle agesModern • modern period • monastery schools • multidisciplinaritymusicorderingphysics • predisciplinary • premodernpursuit of knowledgeQuadriviumrhetoricservile artsskillsocial construction of knowledgesocial rolesspecialisation • spiritual activity • synthesis • tradesmen • transdisciplinarityTrivium • unity


Simon Perkins
14 NOVEMBER 2010

Promoting an inclusive academic community

"We now examine how emerging models of meaningful student engagement with institutions can start to re–create the notion of an inclusive academic community where learners, teachers and researchers are all seen as scholars and collaborators in the common pursuit of knowledge. Using student engagement with CETLs as a brief case study, we consider firstly how we can engage students, who may have little awareness of research, with the idea. Secondly, we describe initiatives aiming at meaningful student engagement in curriculum review, including incorporation of undergraduate research. Finally, we examine the experience of students who wish to publish their research outputs, using Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research as a case study."

(Paul Taylor and Danny Wilding, 2009)

Dr Paul Taylor and Danny Wilding, T'he Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research', University of Warwick, November 2009


2009academic communitycase studyCentres for Excellence in Teaching and LearningCETL • curriculum review • engagementhigher education • Journal of Undergraduate Research • learnerspursuit of knowledgeQAA • Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education • raising awareness of research • Reinvention Centre • researchresearch outputs • research publishing • researcher • scholars • scholarshipstakeholdersstudent engagementteachersUKundergraduateundergraduate researchUniversity of Warwick


Simon Perkins
24 APRIL 2010

Long Live Postdisciplinary Studies!

"Interdisciplinary studies are not enough, for at worst they provide a space in which members of different disciplines can bring their points of view together in order to compete behind a thin disguise of cooperation, so the researchers don't actually escape from their home disciplines – at best they merely offer the prospect of such an escape.

Post–disciplinary studies emerge when scholars forget about disciplines and whether ideas can be identified with any particular one; they identify with learning rather than with disciplines. They follows ideas and connections wherever they lead instead of following them only as far as the border of their discipline. It doesn't mean dilettantism or eclecticism, ending up doing a lot of things badly. It differs from those things precisely because it requires us to follow connections. One can still study a coherent group of phenomena, in fact since one is not dividing it up and selecting out elements appropriate to a particular discipline, it can be more coherent than disciplinary studies.

It's common to say one can only do interdisciplinary studies after one has first got a good grounding in a particular discipline. This is a kind of holding position for conservatives, involving minimal compromise: it also reduces the chances of those who go on to attempt interdisciplinary studies of leaving their discipline."

(Andrew Sayer, 1999)

Fig.1 Diane F. Ramos, 2008. 'Polarican', M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition, The George Washington University.

2). Andrew Sayer, 'Long Live Postdisciplinary Studies! Sociology and the curse of disciplinaryparochialism/imperialism', published by the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YN, UK



1999context • dilettantism • disciplinary imperialism • disciplinary knowledge • disciplinary parochialism • disciplinesdiscursive fieldeclecticismenquiryinterdisciplinarity • interdisciplinary studies • knowledgeLancaster University • post-disciplinary studies • post-disciplinepostdisciplinary • postdisciplinary studies • pursuit of knowledgerelationsilosociologywhole reality


Simon Perkins
19 OCTOBER 2005

Interdisciplinarity is implicitly an idea of a unified, whole reality

"Interdisciplinarity is a commonly discussed alternative to the disciplinary pursuit of knowledge. It is often presented in the context of a critique of the disciplines. However, interdisciplinary enquiry emerges in response to problems defined in terms of the disciplines, and it is usually advanced as a way of enhancing the disciplinary pursuit of knowledge of reality. Most significantly, the emphasis of interdisciplinarity is on the unification of knowledge as a whole. Like the disciplines, interdisciplinarity is implicitly an idea of a unified, whole reality. It does not replace the disciplines but fills in alleged gaps between them by creating "cross–disciplines" that are in effect additional disciplines. The purpose of going "between" the disciplines is to realise a broader, more complete, and integrated understanding of phenomena than is afforded by any single discipline. Modern interdisciplinarity seeks to resolve sharp disciplinary distinctions in order to render the pursuit of knowledge into a coherent totality. It tries to repair the modern fragmentation of knowledge and bring the disciplines together so that the disciplinary project of knowledge of reality can be realised. For these reasons, interdisciplinarity is largely an uncritical extension of the disciplines rather than a critical alternative. Interdisciplinarity functions, in practice as opposed to rhetoric, as a logical implication of the disciplines and defines itself in terms of them."
(Roger Philip Mourad Jr., p.81–82)

Mourad, Roger P Jr. 1997 'Postmodern Philosophical Critique and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Higher Education', Westport, USA: Bergin & Garvey. ISBN: 0897895541



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