The Concept of Interdisciplinary & Its Benefits

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Interdisciplinary is “a means of solving problems and answering questions that cannot be satisfactorily addressed using single methods or approaches” (Klein, 1990, p196) Since the mid 1900’s, interdisciplinary learning has been identified as being one of the most advantageous approaches within the realm of academia as its adaptation of a multitude of disciplines, aims to establish a link between individual subjects whilst creating greater depth and an wider understanding of the global issue through making the transition from academics to real world interconnectedness; exposing the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach in contrast to a one-dimensional fixated view that is offered through a disciplinary stance.

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This essay will sort to expose the benefits of interdisciplinary learning through assessing the possible overlaps and similarities that exist between disciplines. In doing so, the intention will be to discuss both arguments; for and against the approach as it is imperative to “consider the arguments on both sides to arrive at an intelligent conclusion”. Additionally, the individual academic disadvantages/advantages of an interdisciplinary approach that are incurred from learning a multitude of subjects will be assessed. In addition to the above, this essay will also use the information gathered to asses a global issue (Brexit) as a point of reference to extend upon my findings. The broad assumption surrounding Brexit would automatically categorise the notion as political. However, “most political issues often become economic ones” thus it is inherently important to explore its implications from an interdisciplinary perspective to allow for a myriad of perspectives, as the relevance of Brexit rises; as a global issue with respect to the disciplines of Social Policy, Policy and Economics.

It is widely argued by academics that “natural relations among subjects” (Klein, 2005) can only be exposed through synergistic adaptations to disciplines, as it widens the independence of a sole discipline, to make the transition from academics to real world interconnectedness further exposing the potential overlap and similarities that may exist between different disciplines; otherwise marginalised given a different adaptation. Thus, the collaboration of two or more disciplines for a specific purpose (Marr, 2015) allows for a broader scope of knowledge and understanding across disciplines that “cannot be satisfactorily addressed using single methods or approaches” (Klein, 1900, p196). Klein’s stance was shared by Snow in his 1965 speech which introduced the argument in suggesting that the contention that existed between humanities, arts and the sciences would not cease, until it was widely accepted that overlaps within such disciplines are exist.

A more recent reinforcement of this view was corroborated through the work of Borrego and Newander (2010) in Definitions of Interdisciplinary Research which largely buttressed the superiority of an interdisciplinary approach. However, went on to suggest the importance of a robust grounding in the main discipline before proceeding to appreciate overlaps/similarities within others. The emphasis placed upon a firm base of a scientific discipline before interrogating humanities promotes the prejudice that exists within disciplines concerning pure scientists view on multidisciplinary studies, only proving Snow’s theory. Present day solutions to Snow’s problem include the recent Finnish education reform, which intends to implement phenomenon-based learning where “the information and skills related to [the phenomena] are studied by crossing the boundaries between subjects” (Segal, 2016). The importance of using this approach in learning and its risen popularity makes using the approach in research imperative.

An orthodox approach to investigating a global issue using a single discipline, automatically initiates a restrictive stance upon more complex issues. Thus, the limiting nature of the narrow adaptation of a disciplinary approach generates a “‘gulf of mutual incomprehension’” (Marr, 2015) as scholars naturally foster a competitive spirit in defence of their approach. A notable example of this superiority thinking, amongst scholars existed within the development of the Philips curve which initially promoted a trade-off between unemployment and inflation. From an economic perspective and its context (1861-1957) the trade-off between the two macroeconomic variables was largely accepted. However, a change in the economic context (upturn) allowed further analysis from monetarists economists’ M Friedman and E. Phelps who introduced the concept of a “natural rate of unemployment hypothesis which differentiated between a short-run and long-run Phillips curve”

Moreover, behavioural economists widened the economic realm of the “constrained Phillips curve” further as it allowed the consideration of “rational expectations” to reshape the classical economic model, as behavioural economics uses a multitude of sources (psychological/social and cultural) to draw comparisons implied by classical economic theory; to suit a more pragmatic climate. Using the above example, it can be strongly argued that the interaction between disciplines is significant to allow the progressive development of academia and subsequently produce a more robust conclusion. In contrast an explicit economic perspective would have failed to comprehend the wider implications of the trade-off, thus leading to vague academic conclusions as Economists are now beginning to appreciate that political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists may each have useful insights (Aghion and Durlauf 2005).

From the above, we can see an overt advantage of an interdisciplinary approach, as it allows the organic development of overlaps and similarities between disciplines, which in turn provides students with a higher degree of appreciation. Yet, it is imperative for the purpose of this essay to distinguish between branches of interdisciplinary learning; cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary. Firstly, cross-disciplinary promotes the idea of fusing one discipline with another subject matter (Jones, 2010) the fusion caused by this approach, would initiate a stagnant development in regard to learning as students who have insufficient understanding of the main discipline may fail to understand the overlap behind the submergence of one discipline into another. Additionally, it is evident that a limitation of synthesis from a multitude of disciplines, strengthens an interdisciplinary approach as it moves beyond the restrictive lines that a cross-disciplinary approach promotes and rather allows for the synthesis of ideas and characteristics from many different disciplines (Appleby, 2015).

Further, a multidisciplinary learning style supports the notion that students learn through the “teaching of topics from more than one discipline in parallel to the other” (Jones, 2010) Jones’s understanding of the approach suggests that students may be deprived from an integrative experience, that is contrastingly offered from an interdisciplinary approach as integrative thinkers are able to appreciate the connections between disciplines and draw on a wide range of knowledge (reference). Conclusively, although there is a distinctive difference between the outcomes of each approach, there is an increasing level of ambiguity that surrounds the definition of what it means to be an interdisciplinary learner; which serves as a limitation to its integrative advantage (Newell and Green, 1982; Kockelmans 1986; Kockelmans 1989; Klein 2006) thus the subsequent paragraph will sort to explore the lack of uniformity and the extent to which, if any, it impinges upon an interdisciplinary approach.

Whilst the term “interdisciplinary” “still seems to defy definition” (Nissani, 1997) cites Klein, over the past two decades there has been an significant development in the literature surrounding the approach thus it is now easier to identify and understand competing points of view on a range of issues relevant to interdisciplinary teaching and research. The progression within the approach, was notably expressed by Repko’s (2008) publication “Interdisciplinary Research Process and Theory” which underpinned the premise of the approach using methodical steps in establishing

A)The defining characteristics of an interdisciplinary learner

B)Identifying the use of specific disciplines to enrich wider research

C) Synthesising the relevant disciplines to form a consensus.

Repko’s ambitions sort to promote equality controlled entities where rigor is maintained through the application process. The necessity to establish a robust premise in each discipline before starting the synergy process allows students to contribute their own knowledge and research; in the view of developing an analytically dynamic outcome when disciplines are crossed at a later stage. The culmination of academic researchers (Klein, Newell and Szotak) emphasise the “capacity to reflect explicitly about the craft of weaving disciplines together” (2009, p345). The permissive bias towards an interdisciplinary approach alienates the promotion of a disciplinary approach, yet critics of the collaborative approach, advocate the view that there is a lack of definitive evidence to support the prominent benefits of the approach as the “literature surrounding the integrative process remains relatively silent”. The evident conflict between the two approaches, will sort to be dispelled throughout the latter part of this essay, thus the use of Brexit as a relevant global issue will be assessed through interdisciplinary lenses in order to establish the extent to which an integrative approach benefits the global issue in question; whilst drawing comparisons from Finnish phenomenon-based learning

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