The Politics of Disciplinary Advantage
Interdisciplinary work avoids specialisation's growing fragmentation, but it also loses the political advantage of setting criteria and patrolling boundaries. Research that faces the challenge of bringing together concepts from several areas (e.g. in deep ecology, health studies, and natural resource management) is often criticised for blurring distinctions, for being unscientific, and for being conceptually trite.
In addition, disciplinary work produces advantages for its practitioners which those who attempt more open approaches rarely enjoy. Besides epistemic authority and public legitimacy, such advantages include a degree of control over resources, clearer standards for publishing, and a critical mass of disciplined members who protect the turf of their specialisation.
How can interdisciplinary work in future best play the political game? Should interdisciplinary scholars be between the boundaries of other areas, exhorting those protected within to choose relevance and come out and do as we do? Do we need boundaries for interdisciplinary work, carefully and vigorously controlled, so that we too can form distinctions based on criteria for methodological rigour? Is there a place for full theoretical awareness of what distinguishes interdisciplinary work? If interdisciplinarity is to mobilise support, does it need, just like any discipline, its own self-regulating guild?