Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Interdisciplinary methodology in humanities and social sciences: stumbling blocks

Perhaps the most obvious stumbling block that has so far kept interdisciplinary endeavours in social sciences and humanities is a lack of common methodological platform. Before we start cross-pollinating, we need to agree on the yardstick(s) by which we will evaluate and critique each other's works. A lot of people seem to be aware of that, but so far the talk has not gone much beyond proclamations of intent. How come?

In their  training, all scholars go through separate indoctrination processes specific to  their subject - for research methods courses are, in fact, indoctrination camps where we internalise, often unquestioningly, the axioms of our discipline, to proceed whereupon buildinthe  body of our research for the rest of our careers. Whatever intellectual incursions we may make into other disciplines, they most likely will be terminological borrowings or radical adaptations to embroider into the epistemic canvass of our own discipline. 

Epistemological considerations are hardly ever in the picture. Epistemic axioms and methodologies are rarely seen in the context of modernity, history of western science. Researcher's reflexivity is never explicitly encouraged. In some areas, even critical thinking is never given any attention, so undergrads' papers I read sound more like high-level journalism than any kind of scholarly output.

The dearth of true dialogue is then, to a substantial extent, down to the fact that we all speak different professional lingos, never asking ourselves of how they came into existence nor why and wherefore we have been shaped into this particular kind of social subject, the scientist.

In conclusion, I would like to elucidate what goes on in the academia by way of allegory.

First, I see a huge open field, where each discipline stacks up a pile of books to broaden its horizon. The higher the pile, the broader the field of view, but so much the harder it is to climb down, walk over to another discpline's pile, climb up and start talking. What I  suggest is a blimp to float between the piles. It is not an easy-peasy ride, it takes a lot of energy to get it airborne, and a lot of skill to control and navigate it.

The helium for the former would be teaching theoretical fundamentals in a discipline-neutral fashion (I have been working on extended outlines for two such courses for about a year now), the manual for the latter would be epistemological and reflexivity training.  

However, before we even get there, we need to carefully cast the ballast of the previous centuries, by becoming aware of the philosophical premises and resulting limitations of western science: the Cartesian dissasociation, the separation (and eventual compartmentalisation) of the domains of knowledge, the all-knowing scientific observer, etc. It is shocking to see how so many PhD (Philosophiae Doctor!) students have never been taught any basics of philosophy.

Please let me know what you think (remove the XXX from the email address, that's spam crawler prevention) or leave your comment below.

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