• Discipline (or Punish?)

    By Anamaria Dutceac Segesten February 16, 2011 3:00 am UTC

    Deanna wondered not too long ago at UVenus about where she belongs in the world of academia: student, administrator, researcher, all of the above? I recently had a rather similar discussion with myself, in which the matter under debate was my academic identity: am I a political scientist, an international relations scholar, an Europeanist, a balkanist, a general social scientist, a humanities person, an ethnographer, an historian of ideas, a cultural studies specialist…? I took these choices one by one and, comparing them with my projects (past, present and planned); some of these categories seemed more relevant than others. After some prolonged self interrogation, I decided that I am truly a mixture of many of the above enumerated alternatives, and that to take away one of the attributes would also take away a piece of who I am.

    So, you will say: why choose? Why not call myself a political scientist and an Europeanist with an active interest in culture and history? Well, the choice is upon me, not me upon it. I must choose in order to fit into some existing category reinforced by university structures. For example, the category of Europeanist, namely of a specialist on Europe seen from multiple perspectives, hardly exists at most universities in Europe (and I expect that it exists even less in the US or Australia). So the general question that I raise is: why are we prisoners of our academic disciplines? Has not the deconstruction wave reached us here in the academia? We embrace Foucault; why fall into the trap of having to be disciplined or else, punished, ostracized by the academic community that cannot read us, cannot place us in a nicely labeled box?

    This is a plea in favor of multi-, cross-, and trans-disciplinarity specialties. It is based on the assumption that our knowledge, although always incomplete, does not benefit from further parcelization, fragmentation based not on the nature of things studied but on the “disciplined” researcher. The discipline we are trained into teaches us what are the accepted rules of doing research and which are those appropriate topics, methods and techniques that “we” as xxx use. At the same time it closes our eyes to the existence of alternative ways of knowing, it risks impoverishing our universe of cases, and it limits our imagination in finding explanations, or interpretations, or whatever else we are looking for when doing research. Being too disciplined kills creativity, I would argue. We are aware of the governmentality of the academia as an institution (think of managerialism and time spent looking for grants and all that jazz). Shall we allow this transformation even at the core of our work, shall we accept being disciplined? Let us unleash our creative forces beyond disciplinary borders!

    If you want to read more on the multi-, cross-, inter-, and trans-disciplinarity here are a few titles:

    • Nissani, Moti (1997) “Ten Cheers for Interdisciplinarity: The Case for Interdisciplinary Knowledge and Research”, The Social Science Journal, Volume 34, Number 2, pages 201-216
    • Sherif Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif (eds.) (1969) Interdisciplinary Relationships in the Social Sciences. Chicago: Aldine
    • Dubreuil, Laurent (2007) Dossier - La fin des disciplines ? Labyrinthe, pages 13-26 online (in French)

    Anamaria writes from Lund, Sweden. She is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus.




Comments on Discipline (or Punish?)

  • I love that image
  • Posted by Lee Skallerup Bessette , Fellow UVenus Blogger on February 16, 2011 at 4:30pm UTC
  • Discipline or punish? I love it.

    In my experience, I have been punished for my cross-disciplinary research interests. Literature is literature, but because my interests are (currently) focused on an author who writes in French, I am unable or unqualified for English. I am also interested in issues of translation and how we transfer meaning between languages and cultures, but again, not "relevant" for English. I am postcolonial, but I study both French and English postcolonial writings. I know all about not fitting in a box. And, no, I can't get a job in a French /languages department because a) there are even less jobs there than in English and b) I don't have a degree specifically in French.

    Then again, I knew the rules going in and I chose to either ignore them or naively hoped that they wouldn't matter. I want interdisciplinarity to be valued and rewarded, but I'm not holding my breath. Unless, somehow, like I did, you luck upon a position that is for a "generalist", then you'd better be able to check all of the right boxes in order to be hired, tenured, and promoted.
  • Hear, hear!
  • Posted by Afshan , Sociology on February 16, 2011 at 7:00pm UTC
  • I love the title and I love the post! I couldn't agree with you more.Unfortunately, the Academy only pays lip service to inter/multi-disciplinarity. When it comes to hiring decisions, the conversations behind closed doors end up being about whether a particular candidate is really an "X" (fill in your discipline). This is a retrenchment of disciplines and knowledge, and I agree it only serves to close one off to other possibilities, ways of knowing and understanding.
  • A critical mass
  • Posted by Anamaria at UVenus on February 17, 2011 at 10:15am UTC
  • Thanks for your comments, Lee and Afshan! The immanence of these structures is only an appearance. Let us remember that these structures are also the product of norms and interests carried by social groups - if they could create them, so can we. We just need a critical mass (in both meanings of the term).
    I am also a little surprised that this issue does not raise that many comments among the readers. Either everyone agrees or very many are happy not to engage with the issue. Perhaps this is only relevant in some fields?
  • Cross appointments
  • Posted by Melonie on February 17, 2011 at 1:30pm UTC
  • I agree about the lip-service, the hiring decisions being discipline based, and the reasons are institutional/organizational i.e. where is the funding coming from for the hire? And which department will be able to milk the most teaching out of that person? I know that sounds dreadful, but I think it does happen (especially since teaching is less valued than research--it has to be "dumped" on someone). I think sometimes people who obtain "cross-appointed" hires are exploited.

    I haven't seen yet whether my own "interdisciplinarity" will cause problems for me in terms of job applications and so on, but I already see a problem with journals (where do I send my work, for what audience is it appropriate?). Conferences are easier because you can tailor an abstract, tweak it to fit the context, or so I've done in the past. My work is more problem-based, so it's hard to choose a disciplinary "home".