Studying a subject in-between traditional disciplines is often talked about, but it is not always successfully practised in reality. Interdisiplinarity nonetheless offers a laudable goal to freeing research from silos, and enabling new, interesting avenues of research to be undertaken.

There are now lots of good examples of research that has been highly successful and would not have been possible without co-ordination between disciplines, or without individuals and groups working across those traditional boundaries. Take the Centre for the Study of the Senses (CenSes), whose founding director, Professor Barry C. Smith is a philosopher of language and the mind, with a particular interest in taste. See the video below where Professor Smith chats with chef Heston Blumenthal about the subject.

The CenSes works collaboratively on sensory research, drawing on the work not only of philosophers such as Professor Smith, but also of psychologists, neuroscientists and anthropologists. The project rests upon the core belief that united together scientists and humanities researchers can understand the complexity of human senses in myriad ways, not at all possible when working only within separate silos.

Another example is the Re-configuring Ruins Project, managed by Carlos Galviz, which seeks to understand the nature of and the cultures around ruins through art, history, archaeology, and fiction. The project offers a glimpse into how research could be conducted – not just one easy to define explanation of something, but a variety of understandings and knowledge about that subject expressed in different, but equally meaningful ways.

There are numerous other examples of interdisciplinary research and much of it takes place without acknowledgement. Studies in modern languages, often, by their nature, focus on areas which cross traditional disciplines. The researcher of a modern language might need also to be an expert in history, philosophy, or palaeography. Higher education institutions are increasingly aware of such facts, and for the need of training that falls outside of the traditional disciplines. As an example, University College London now offers a degree in Arts and Sciences, which takes as its starting point the idea that knowledge is best obtained from different perspectives. One of its core modules is described as attempting to show that:

‘Knowledge is not confined to university departments or school syllabi. We focus on the role of interdisiplinarity in breaking down old boundaries of knowledge – and its role in creating new ways of thinking about knowledge.’

The School of Advanced Study, with funding and support from the LAHP (London Arts and Humanities Partnership) and AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council), is putting together a workshop on this very subject, with the hope that it will enable researchers to understand the benefits and the challenges of working in-between traditional disciplines. The workshop is free and includes a free lunch, as well as the opportunity to meet many researchers already successfully working on interdisciplinary subjects.

If you would like to join us please reserve your place now at the event booking page. This post was written by Dr Matt Phillpott (SAS), one of the event’s  coordinators.

Space In Between