Creating Interdisciplinarity: Grounded Definitions from the College and University Faculty
Definitions of interdisciplinarity often focus on the integration of disciplinary concepts or perspectives. Few definitions, however, are grounded in the work of faculty who conduct interdisciplinary scholarship. To better understand the practice of interdisciplinarity in research and teaching, and its implications for academics' professional lives, I interviewed college and university faculty affiliated with a variety of liberal arts and sciences disciplines in four U.S. institutions of varying size and mission. The study explored how interviewees practiced interdisciplinarity; how institutional, departmental, and disciplinary locations affected their scholarly identities, professional associations, and work lives; and the kinds of rewards they reaped from interdisciplinary work. In this article, I analyze a subset of the interviews, examining explicit and implied definitions of interdisciplinarity and their relationship to faculty members' understandings of disciplinarity and scholarly work. The analysis reveals that definitions of interdisciplinarity that emphasize integration exclude some forms of interdisciplinary work. I therefore suggest an alternative, more inclusive conceptualization that strives to encompass a range of interdisciplinary practices. Further study of interdisciplinary research and teaching might confirm that all interdisciplinary scholarship can be categorized according to the typology described here - or it might provide evidence of additional forms of interdisciplinarity.