Initial conversations with people at NTNU. Zoom. Diarising. Calendar integration issues. Time zone misunderstandings. Explaining sound journaling. Then glimpses into homes. Academics decoupled from the infrastructure which makes them seem… well, academic.
NTNU is huge. Over 8,000 employees. Nearly 42,000 students. Where are they all now? At home? Are all of their homes wooden panelled ? I’m dealing with so many of my own assumptions because I’m not there, I don’t have evidence to counter-balance my clunky stereotypes.
Bookshelves and house plants, artwork hung behind them, pixelated. I can’t decipher this land, this organisation, these people through my screen. So now, I turn it over to the things that were said, and save my reflections for later. Just be present. Listen. Don’t interpret.
“Personally, I don’t much like the notion of interdisciplinarity. It tends to reproduce the colonial idea of the discipline as a bounded terrain of knowledge with an exclusive claim to represent a particular segment of the world. In just the same way, the international order reproduces the idea of the sovereignty of the nation state over its territory.
As the world is carved up geopolitically between nations, so it is divided intellectually between disciplines. Dealing with other disciplines calls then for treaty negotiations, as in interdisciplinary conferences. But real disciplines are not like that. They are more like conversations. Each conversation is composed of multiple lines which, while converging in some regards, diverge in others. In practice these bundles of lines have no boundaries, nor do they lay claim to territories. Each line is rather looking for a way through. There is nothing to stop anyone from departing from one conversation in order to join another. One has to cross no boundaries in order to do so […]
I am beginning to think that the key thing we should be pushing for is not so much interdisciplinarity as accessibility. One of the ways scholars close ranks against intruders like me is by writing in an idiom that speaks only to others familiar with the same code, and who read and refer to the same sources. Much of this writing is impenetrable to outsiders. I find it irresponsible. It is our responsibility, as scholars, to make our work accessible. This does not entail simplification, let alone popularisation. It is reasonable to assume that our readers are as intelligent as we are, that they are equally capable of handling complex ideas, and keen to make the effort. But we cannot assume that they have read the same works, or have been trained to use the same idioms.
So we don’t really need interdisciplinarity. That only creates boundaries where none were there before. What we need is accessibility, responsible scholarship, and conversation.
Ecocriticism and “Thinking with Writing”: An Interview with Tim Ingold by Antonia Spencer (2020)
The people I talked to about NTNU’s approach – what made it distinct, in terms of the way it articulates or engages with research and publics around saltwater bodies – often identified its interdisciplinary commitments.
This made me think a lot about my own journey through disciplines. These absolutely are false divisions as Ingold asserts, and ones which I have – despite a high level of education – failed to embody myself. I have always operated in a number of areas, simultaneously.
Initially I was reprimanded for lacking focus. Then I was encouraged by top-down rhetoric in the absence of structural support, or coherent, navigable paths. I struggled even to find role-models, though I did find peers. Perhaps we are now role models for others. It wasn’t intentional.
If we think about relationality rather than linearity, the journeying away from and towards discipline divisions may be a less frustrating read.
Education wasn’t always divided in this discipline-specific way. In ancient Greece, the quadrivium was a curriculum which comprised number, geometry, music, and cosmology. It persisted until the Renaissance (if only this was a surprise).
“Geometry is number in space; music is number in time; and cosmology expresses number in space and time. Number, music, and geometry are metaphysical truths: life across the universe investigates them; they foreshadow the physical sciences.”
Martineau, J. (2010). Quadrivium: The four classical liberal arts of number, geometry, music, & cosmology. Bloomsbury.
Although we shouldn’t idealise this age or its people, you have to admire its educational ambition – to prepare one to touch reality. This could lead into a discussion of essentialism, and that would take things off track. The point now, is that the goal now (at least in higher education in the West) is often to prepare a student for employment. And even then, the preparation is in very narrow ways. The proliferation of media technologies means that students are spread thin. Yet foundational skills such as critical thinking, are lacking.
We have to educate in both the applied and abstract. Neither should be optional, though either may be unpopular.
In a post-truth age, the ability to touch reality has never been so pragmatic. Ah yea, it’s also kinda lofty.