Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Defense of Disciplines: Rejecting the Siren Song of Interdisciplinary Research

Inside Higher Ed:  A Call to Embrace Silos:

In DefenseEveryone, it seems, wants to promote interdisciplinary work. College and university presidents love to announce new interdisciplinary centers. Funders want to support such work. Many professors and graduate students bemoan the way higher ed places them in silos from which they long to free themselves, if only they could get tenure for interdisciplinary work.

Jerry A. Jacobs, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, wants to end the interdisciplinary love fest. His new book, In Defense of Disciplines: Interdisciplinarity and Specialization in the Research University (University of Chicago Press, 2013), challenges the conventional wisdom that academe needs to get out of disciplines to solve the most important problems and to encourage creative thinking. The most significant ideas (including those related to problems that cross disciplines) in fact come out of specialized, discipline-oriented work, Jacobs argues. Further, he says that the idea that disciplines don't communicate right now is overstated -- and that such communication can be encouraged without weakening disciplines.

In an interview, he said common sense shows that interdisciplinary problems require many disciplines to work on them -- from the strength of their scholarly backgrounds.

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