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projet de recherche
The social construction of interdisciplinarity.
Academic disciplines are socially constructed; as such, scholars in different countries impose a different set of boundaries on their knowledge and thus on their research. But one thing remains constant: the need to cross disciplinary boundaries in order to investigate complex problems, since the world does not arrange itself as tidily as the academy. Interdisciplinary research permits scholars trained in different methods and theories to cooperate in their effort to conduct sophisticated research beyond the reach of a single approach.
There is an extensive literature on interdisciplinarity; some authors use it in a research context, others apply it to their teaching. In either context, there are two typical approaches. The first documents exemplary interdisciplinary projects in hopes that this will illuminate the key characteristics of research requiring analysis from more than one discipline. The second approach investigates the organizations supporting such research.
Rather than examining interdisciplinarity from the starting points of either projects or organizations, examining the forms of communication used by specific projects or particular organizations may be a more valuable focus. Every project and every organization finds its own ways to convey information across a group, yet these are rarely the lens through which scholars document interdisciplinary investigations. Thus my project at the Collegium de Lyon would address the question: What communication forms best facilitate interdisciplinary research today? This is a “meta” question, relevant to all disciplines. There are a limited number of ways to convey information across a group, both in person and using various technologies, but the goal is to learn the circumstances under which each of these is most productive.
Thus, rather than continue the practice of separately documenting the histories of each project and organization, it would be more useful to document what communication forms socially construct an environment conducive to interdisciplinarity, and what types of interaction and knowledge exchange each form best facilitates. Rather than just examine what has been done in the past, it would prove most valuable to explore how various new technologies provide new possibilities. Given the variety of new technologies available today, there are faster and better ways to share information across a group informally than the traditional conferences and publications. One example would be email, which had its origins in the needs of collaborating scholars to quickly communicate information across the group. Less obvious forms would be Wikis or Internet2, which have great potential as tools in data collection and storage, collaborative writing, and project management, especially when group members are physically separated. There is much research available now on the use of new media technologies, but little that investigates how these technologies can serve the goals of interdisciplinarity.
Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz is Professor of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in the USA. She obtained her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in 1983. Her research is situated at the interface of anthropology, linguistics, and communication. In the discipline of communication, the names for this work are intercultural communication, and language and social interaction. She is active in the national and international associations of communication in the USA; this year, she chairs the international and intercultural division of the national association. In addition, she chairs the organizing committee of an international conference on intercultural dialogue to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in July 2009. Last year she was co-PI for a grant investigating how to use wikis in teaching.