Once a very marginal pursuit, and one that was considered distinctly inferior to work in the disciplinary mainstreams, interdisciplinarity has moved to the centre of concerns in academia over the past ten years – to the point where it features as a priority in research council award criteria and ‘grand challenges’, and in most university research strategies (including the University of Bristol’s).
Yet there is still considerable puzzlement about what exactly interdisciplinarity means and how/whether it can successfully be developed. These issues range from definitional matters – is interdisciplinarity the same, for example, as multi-disciplinarity, cross-disciplinarity, post-disciplinarity? (and does that question matter?) – through to taxing problems about how, say, an educational psychologist is actually to work with a systems engineer in considering the human context and consequences of nanotechnology.
Additionally, the development of collaborative and interdisciplinary research programmes across the gamut of specialist areas leads to further theoretical and organizational questions for example:
IAS is keen to further such issues and conversations. In 2010, for example, we ran a series of seminars under the rubric ‘Cultures of Enquiry’ to explore the meaning and intellectual status of interdisciplinarity, and had speakers looking at the practical difficulties and advantages of working with others at Bristol in various real interdisciplinary programmes. Our ‘Complexity in the Real World’ workshops is another example.