Universities are notorious for finding it very difficult to mix disciplines. One faculty will look (down) disdainfully at another, assuming the high ground for academic approach, rigour or sheer depth of knowledge. I have literally seen an academic measure knowledge in terms of the thickness of a masters dissertation document for different disciplines – surely the most arbitrary of scales for expertise. I used to believe that academic seniority indicated a critically reflective attitude to new ideas or knowledge areas, but often this is an inverse relationship.
Faculty members who are mostly of the ‘very academic’ variety, i.e. they do a lot of writing, attending committee meetings and department budget control, sometimes fall foul of their assumption that those who dabble in creative or social arts or (woe!) sciences, aren’t that good at ‘writing’, or knowing things about ‘theory’, or even ‘thinking’ in philosophical terms. They simply assume they themselves are better at these things, perhaps because they can’t do anything else. This is the crux of the problem.
I have always worked at the boundaries of knowledge areas. To my potential downfall it seems, as this is assumed – perhaps especially by academics – to mean I’m not very good at anything. But of course I’m probably quite good at a lot of things, which is what is needed in todays super-complex chameleon-esque and interdisciplinary (Ronald Barnett, various) world.
In media and technology we sometimes refer to ‘general specialists’, those who can talk media, communications, design or even *coding* to both those who do those things, and those who do not do those things. A sort of bridge-of-understanding role. This description of people who work across fields, aiding or challenging thinking and approaches, is how many of us must be in order to work with relevance and effectiveness across multi-discipline projects. Now that I’m into a PhD thesis, my topic demands this approach, on a deeply critical level. Not just a cursory ‘oh I’ve looked at so-and-so who might be relevant’, but rather a concerted examination of what may appear to some as completely separate (siloed) areas of expertise and thinking. To be specific – and academic – about it, technological versus theoretical or epistemological discourses.
This problem, I believe, is compounded on a daily basis between disciplines in the modern world, both at work, and in the classroom. And academia, who could be at the forefront of new ways of cross pollinating and combining areas of knowledge and learning, are mostly left at the back of the queue arguing about who is ‘more critical’ in their critical analysis, methodology or paradigm. Naturally, the scientists may laugh at this, being only positivist, but they too are to blame.
My own dilemma of always needing to have both technical expertise and understanding as well as strong knowledge of ‘how we come to know about the world around us’ appears to sometimes relegate me to the back benches of academic respect. Which is a shame, really.
In another post on my PhD blog, I write on the technical significance of interwingled-ness and the findability of knowledge in a connected world. It is this understanding, I believe, which may help me to achieve something of at least a modicum of interest and merit in the PhD.