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Cross-disciplinarity (yet again)


The topic of cross-disciplinarity is of ongoing interest to me. Lately I have stumbled upon two texts providing interesting perspectives on it.


The first is a Swedish report on Cross-disciplinarity in research by Sanström et. al (2004). Three core terms are defined and form the basis for further discussions: disciplinary, multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary. Cross-disciplinary is an umbrella term covering multi-disciplinary as well as inter-disciplinary:


The second text is by Jost Reekveld for a recent seminar at Baltan Laboratories. He is criticising how cross-disciplinary often ends up before going on to suggest yet another term, auto-disciplinary:

The common ideals of multi-, inter- and transdisciplinarity also imply some kind of common ground. Projects can certainly be interesting if disciplines are enriched by the contact with other disciplines, but I would like to present two images that capture the down-to-earth reality of many of these projects. One image is that of the round table with a hole in the middle; representatives of various disciplines sit around this table, the hole remains empty and the disciplines themselves are not questioned. The second image has become very common: many organisations have an office for interdisciplinary affairs in the same corridor as the offices for the traditional disciplines. Just as in the other offices, a specialised language is spoken in the office for interdisciplinary affairs, which sets it apart from the rest.


With the term ‘autodisciplinarity’ I would like to propose yet another disciplinary word that I hope helps to think about structures for new kinds of activity. It resembles all kinds of self-referential things that are commonly thought not to be possible, such as lifting oneself up by pulling ones own hair or pulling ones bootstraps. In a similar vein it can be thought that riding a bicycle is impossible: it is impossible to achieve speed without maintaining balance by steering, and it is impossible to steer without having speed. As seen from an armchair, riding a bike is clearly an impossible task.


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