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Interdisciplinarity Notes

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Interdisciplinarity Notes discussing the concept of interdisciplinarity and its relative merits and downfalls, also discussing whether geography is uniquely placed to be interdisciplinary. Contents







Interdisciplinarity Is geography interdisciplinary?
Benefits of interdisciplinarity Issues with interdisciplinarity Why do we need interdisciplinarity now?
What form should interdisciplinarity take?

Key debates

What form should interdisciplinarity take in geography?
Is Geography inherently interdisciplinary?
Why should we be interdisciplinary?


1. Interdisciplinarity Discipline: a branch of learning that enforces a set of assumptions, methods, epistemologies, concepts, theories and methods (Repko, 2008) Interdisciplinarity

Scholars working together to bring together separate bodies of data /methods
/tools /concepts/ theories, creating a common understanding that goes beyond the sum of the parts and transcends disciplinary boundaries (Huutoniemi et al, 2010) Three forms of collaborative disciplinary transgression (Jantsch, 1972) o Multidisciplinarity- convergence of multiple disciplines that remain intact on their own o Transdisciplinarity- convergence that leads to a fusion, not a mutual interpretation of disciplinary epistemologies o Interdisciplinarity- convergences of multiple disciplines that then develop a transcendent methodology Cognate and radical interdisciplinarity (Whatmore, 2013) o Cognate: two disciplines similar in focus interested in a similar aspect of the world join forces to investigate it, 'one plus one' logic, dominant

discipline makes a hasty appeal to another e.g. climate science appeals to human agency for answers in climate change research o Radical: epistemological overhaul, creates more collaborative means of knowledge production Problem solving or inventive (Barry et al, 2008) o Problem solving/accountability- scientific research is positively allied to government/market framings of the problem to be addressed and seeks to provide solutions o Inventive rationale/ontological- involves reframing the problem through collaborative working practices involving those affected by the issue at hand and thereby arriving at alternative solutions

'Mode 2 knowledge production' (Gibbons et al, 1994)- 20thC, context-driven, problem focussed, interdisciplinary mode 2 breaks down divide between expert and lay knowledge ('Mode 1' - academic, investigator initiated, discipline based)

2. Is geography interdisciplinary?
Debates over the value of interdisciplinarity run parallel to geography's own debates over the value and future of geographers working together across its human-physical divide Geography is interdisciplinary

Combines nature and human concerns o Geographers have advantage in their pre-existing interdisciplinarity between research into nature and society (Harrison et al, 2008) o Geography as 'the preeminent interdisciplinary environmental discipline' (Skole, 2004) o MacKinder (1887)- proposal for new geog - 'geog bridges one of the greatest of all gaps, between natural sciences and study of humanity' o Geography is a bridge discipline (Gober, 2004) Geography bridges the two (sometimes separate disciplines of) human and physical geography o Massey (1995/2005)- conceptualisation of space time is a common denominator in both HG/PG serving to bridge the discipline and provide a common language/conceptual common ground o Environmental geography is interdisciplinary (Castree et al 2009)- land degradation/global environmental change/water resource conflicts/wildlife conservation issues all provide a shared subject matter for human and physical geographers (Viles, 2005)

Geography is not interdisciplinary - it is a divided discipline

Human and physical geographers rarely work together o Geographers' different endeavours flow by each other rather than colliding and collaborating in environmental research (Demeritt 2009)

Increased specialisation is making G research more narrowly scoped (Demeritt, 2009) Human and physical geographers have different methodologies and different languages o Across geography we speak different languages, do different things..even within same departments geographers fail to communicate (Stoddart, 1987) o H and P geographers have different models of knowledge production (Harrison et al, 2004), and different philosophical/methodological practices due to the different questions asked by geographers on each side (Viles, 2005) We tend to collaborate with OTHERS rather than ACROSS the divide within geography itself o On either side of the divide, interdisciplinary partnerships are being forged with other disciplines, whereas partnerships that bridge the divide have not been as numerous (Donovan et al, 2011) o Physical geographers haste to claim as scientists and worthy with chemists.. human geographers have an obsession with philosophers/anthropologists (Harrison et al, 2004) o

Do Geographers have a unique ability to engage in interdisciplinarity?

Yes: Geographers' experience in connecting human/nature means they can be 'catalysts' for productive activity' by teams drawn from multiple disciplines (Baerwald, 2010) - Geographers have the capacity to bridge human and nature Yes: Geography's focus on spatial/temporal can be applied to any other discipline- Geographers' their approaches can be applied in multiple ways far beyond the discipline = utility in a myriad of other disciplines (Harrison et al, 2014) Yes: Multiple methodologies - examining geography's methodologies yields no coherent core, no toolbelt with a specific set of methodological approaches
--> natural framework for thinking across disciplines, inquire across scales, appreciation of synthesis/collaboration feeds its interdisciplinary potential but not its nature (Baerwald, 2010) No: Must first bridge their own divide: Bracken and Oughton (2006)- in order to fully exploit position as good candidate for interdisc, it must first communicate more effectively across H/PG fields No: Baerwald 2010- Geography cannot be treated as exceptional in its ability to conduct interdisciplinary work..environmental history/sustainability science/land change science= all contribute successfully to interdisciplinarity (Demeritt, 2009)

3. Benefi ts of interdisciplinarity

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