introduction: theory of interdisciplinarity
There are at least two approaches that can be taken to research into the state of interdisciplinarity.
From the perspective of the mid- to late 20th century, societal pressures revealed gaps and inadequacies in the disciplinary structure of the academy: connections not being made, and topics not being examined. Interdisciplinary programs were developed in areas such as women's studies, gay studies, and environmental studies to address these needs. This period also saw the development of a scholarly literature on interdisciplinarity (first codified by Klein, 1990) and the creation of professional societies (in the US, the Association for Integrative Studies, AIS, in 1979) devoted to exploring these issues.
However, interdisciplinarity may also be seen as the most recent expression of a set of perennial questions concerning the pertinence of knowledge for the goal of living well. Such questions span the entirety of Western culture, and reassert themselves with particular force during times of cultural change (see, for instance, Rousseau's Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences (1750), Goethe's Faust (1808), or Nietzsche's On the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1873)). Today this question once again takes on renewed importance as we face a new set of challenges tied to the development of the internet and other new information technologies.
CSID places its work within this second, larger compass, seeing "interdisciplinarity" as a placeholder for more general concerns with the rapidly changing place of the academy and knowledge generally within 21st century society.
Listed below are four featured projects representing our efforts to both theorize interdisciplinarity and connect that knowledge to issues facing contemporary society.
Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity.
Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity. Robert Frodeman, Julie Thompson Klein, and Carl Mitcham, eds. One hundred years of growing disciplinary expertise has bred a complementary demand for synoptic perspectives on knowledge. Academics, policy makers, and citizens are asking for approaches to help manage the incredible amounts of knowledge being produced, both within research and at all levels of education. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity summarizes the state of interdisciplinarity today, and raises critical questions about the future of knowledge.
Further reading: Klein, Julie Thompson, 1990. Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory, and Practice. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
NSF's Broader Impacts Criterion
CSID has the web's most extensive collection of resources examining the broader impacts criterion, as well as help for others to address the broader impacts of their research proposals. Preview our forthcoming special issue of Social Epistemology.
Philosophy of Peer Review
CAPR is our NSF funded research project aimed at studying the interdisciplinary nature of the peer review processes across 6 US and foreign public funding agencies, with particular focus on how different agencies attempt to integrate 'broader impacts' issues into the review of scientific proposals.
Interdisciplinary peer review may sound like an oxymoron: a "peer" is most often characterized in terms of shared disciplinary expertise. It may therefore seem odd that peer review is one of the major research areas for the Center of the Study of Interdisciplinarity. However, the existing system of peer review is under increasing stress, and many of the issues that have been raised concerning the use of peer review as a tool for research assessment can be traced to underlying assumptions regarding the nature, scope, and limits of disciplinary expertise.
Beginning Fall 2008, CSID is being funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for three years to pursue research on the ethical and philosophical dimensions of climate change. Our research will ask how scientists and policy makers can become more sensitive to the cultural and philosophical dimensions of climate change issues. How do more refined data and improved computer models change the ethical dimensions of climate policy? How are the burdens and benefits of climate change likely to be distributed both nationally and internationally? How can governments, businesses, NGOs, and individuals better appreciate the ethical dimensions of scientific insights?
This project will also explore the interdisciplinary context of climate science-how different methods, perspectives, timelines, and interpretive frameworks are blended to create a holistic interpretation of use to policy makers and the public.
Here is a list of topics we have researched in the past, some of which are still ongoing areas of interest and active research.