Defining "Disciplinary Perspective"

Scholars of interdisciplinarity have long appreciated the importance of ‘disciplinary perspective.’ Disciplines each have a way of looking at the world that influences how research and teaching within that discipline are pursued. This disciplinary perspective is largely unconscious, and thus scholars will be influenced by it even if they are consciously interdisciplinary in outlook. Only in recent decades have its key elements been identified:

·         Disciplines identify certain things that they study

·         Disciplines favor one or a few theories (in general or for each thing they study)

·         Disciplines favor one or a few methods (and thus types of data and standards of evidence)

·         Disciplines define key concepts in particular ways

·         Disciplines take their own ontological stance toward the nature of reality

·         Disciplines take their own epistemological stance regarding the possibilities of human understanding and the best ways of enhancing (if possible) that understanding

·         Disciplines to varying degrees may also be associated with particular ethical, ideological, or aesthetic tendencies.

·         Some disciplines are closely identified with certain major thinkers.

It is important not just to appreciate these individual elements, but also how these operate in practice:

·         These elements are mutually reinforcing.  Disciplines choose methods that are good at investigating their theories, and subject matter that their theories and methods can deal with. A discipline’s epistemological outlook will naturally approve of the methods it employs. Thus one great barrier to interdisciplinarity is that disciplinarians disdain the methods of others, but their own methods tend to be biased in favor of their own theories. Since the elements of disciplinary perspective cohere, interdisciplinary scholars often use the word "worldview" to describe it. [See Defining "Worldview"]

·         Disciplinary perspective is largely subconscious. It is absorbed slowly over time. Scholars that recognize disciplinary perspective may be better placed to appreciate its constraints.

·         Disciplines make decisions about granting degrees, hiring, and publication with recourse to disciplinary perspective (often subconsciously). Scholars who rebel against their discipline’s perspective can see their careers destroyed or constrained.

Note: Disciplines are usually further subdivided into subdisciplines.  Subdisciplines may differ in important ways in terms of subject matter, theories, methods, and other elements of disciplinary perspective.  If, however, decisions regarding granting of degrees, hiring, and/or publication in key journals are made by those representing the discipline rather than the subdisciplines, then we can anticipate that there will be strong pressures for all involved in subdisciplines of a particular discipline to have a similar perspective.

The term ‘interdiscipline’ refers to some field of inquiry that combines aspects of different disciplines but has not (yet) solidified into a discipline with a unified perspective Fuchman’s 2012 Issues article speaks to this.

Subpages (1): Defining "Worldview"