Interdisciplinarity

Interdisciplinarity is the act of drawing from two or more academic disciplines and integrating their insights to work together in pursuit of a common goal. "Interdisciplinary Studies", as they are called, use interdisciplinarity to develop a greater understanding of a problem that is too complex or wide-ranging (i.e. AIDS pandemic, global warming) to be dealt with using the knowledge and methodology of just one discipline.

Interdisciplinary programs sometimes arise from a shared conviction that the traditional disciplines are unable or unwilling to address an important problem. For example, social science disciplines such as anthropology and sociology paid little attention to the social analysis of technology throughout most of the twentieth century. As a result, many social scientists with interests in technology have joined science and technology studies programs, which are typically staffed by scholars drawn from numerous disciplines (including anthropology, history, philosophy, sociology, and women's studies). They may also arise from new research developments, such as nanotechnology, which cannot be addressed without combining the approaches of two or more disciplines. Examples include quantum information processing, which amalgamates elements of quantum physics and computer science, and bioinformatics, which combines molecular biology with computer science. In a sense, those who pursue Interdisciplinary Studies degrees or practice interdisciplinarity in their lives are seen as pioneers (and even risk-takers) at the cutting edge of scholarship, science, and technology. In this way, interdisciplinarians are able to acknowledge and combat the present and future problems of humanity.

At another level, interdisciplinarity is seen as a remedy to the intellectually deadening effects of excessive specialization. On some views, however, interdisciplinarity is entirely indebted to those who specialize in one field of study--that without specialists, interdisciplinarians would have no information and no leading experts to consult. Others place the focus of interdisciplinarity on the need to transcend disciplines, viewing excessive specialization as problematic both epistemologically and politically. When interdisciplinary collaboration or research results in new solutions to problems, much information is given back to the various disciplines involved. Therefore, both disciplinarians and interdisciplinarians must work complementary to each other in order to solve problems.

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