Interdisciplinarity/Extradisciplinarity: On the University and the Active Pursuit of Community


  • Alison Hearn University of Western Ontario


Alison Hearn, HIC, 2003


This paper explores a defining contradiction at the heart of the university as a social and cultural institution: society requires the university to serve it, but this service requires the university's detachment and freedom from external social determinations. I argue that we can see this paradox embedded at the very heart of the university expressed in a myriad of ways throughout the institution's long history, including the relatively recent debates about interdisciplinarity. I review some instances in the history of the university where this contradiction has expressed itself most clearly and then examine some of the ways in which the rubric "interdisciplinarity" has been deployed in the contemporary corporate university. How is the term used? Who uses it and for what reasons? How might we come to understand "interdisciplinarity" as a performative term re-presenting or promising one set of meanings, but instantiating a very different set of actions? What are the political dimensions of its use? I highlight and problematize the distinction between the emergence of "interdisciplinarity" as an intellectual phenomenon and "interdisciplinarity" as it is currently defined and administered within academic institutions. Finally, I explore an alternative way to think about what we do at the university in the name of interdisciplinarity.

Author Biography

Alison Hearn, University of Western Ontario

Dr. Alison Hearn works in the areas of media and visual culture and the university as cultural site. She is currently Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. With Liora Salter, she is co-author of Outside the Lines: Issues in Interdisciplinary Research (McGill
- Queen's, 1996).