As we are constantly reminded during our coursework at ATREE, we are in an ‘interdisciplinary’ course. I thought I knew what all that was about before I joined.
I thought wrong.
It turns out now that not only is all that I thought of ‘interdisciplinary’ (ID) redundant, but it has four other cool guys it likes to hang out with. There’s CD (cross disciplinary), MD (multi disciplinary), TD (trans disciplinary) and PD (pseudo disciplinary). Okay, I admit I made up the last one, but judging by the undisciplined rate of the growth of disciplines, it spells trouble for us. Actually being a firm believer in evolution, it becomes even more uncomfortable to tell people that I’m in an ID course! I’m not going to rattle on about this, but let me tell you that there are apparently at least 17 certified people in this world who know the differences between ID and its pals. I can certify that I’m certainly not one of them. As an aside, and I kid you not, there are apparently people studying interdisciplinary practitioners to see how they work!!
In one of our many readings for the coursework was a paper on practicing interdisciplinarity. If it was meant to be an advertisement for interdisciplinarity, it falls flat. Instead, it will terrify all prospective ID practitioners because of the range of reasons it provides for the failure of ID to take off. Practitioners, it says, need to rid themselves of their biases and value judgements that are a part of their training in any discipline. Then comes the serious part. That many of the barriers aren’t actually in our hands at all! Then the final nail. Parent institutions should be convinced that the outputs that emerge from an ID collaboration should not be weighed by conventional disciplinary or departmental standards! Is that a realistic situation? With just a handful of people around who have even heard of ID, doesn’t look like good times ahead.
As ecologists and ID practitioners, we are expected to bridge the gap (divide?) between the natural and social sciences and find collaborative answers to all the burning problems that the environment faces. As if it wasn’t intimidating enough already. Oh, did I mention that nobody is still very sure how to do that?
I think I need a drink.