Discipline (or Punish?)

Deanna wondered not

February 15, 2011

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 http://labyrinthe.revues.org/index1892.html (in French)

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



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