Contributed by Peter Ore
"The crisis of climate change calls on academics to rise above their
disciplinary prejudices, for it is a crisis of many dimensions."
Chakrabarty, pg. 19
The first decades of 21st-century academic discourse have been saturated with calls to interdisciplinarity from both dominant institutions (e.g. the NSF's IGERT program) and grassroots groups like the ICN. Many see interdisciplinary collaboration as a means to resolve intransigent concrete and epistemological problems. However, science and technology scholars have conflicting views on its benefits. Some question the extent to which interdisciplinarity contributes to innovation, positing that traditional disciplinary studies yield more abstract, generalizable knowledge than problem-oriented interdisciplinary studies. Others argue over whether interdisciplinarity forms the basis of scientific thought or is a natural side effect (for an overview, see Jacobs and Frickel 2009). What is clear is that contemporary appeals to make knowledge-generation more collaborative signal an effort to reorient academic priorities to the looming demands of climate change.
Many claim that the recognition of anthropogenic climate change has rendered traditional disciplinary divisions between the natural and social sciences irrelevant. This has been variously characterized as the "end of nature," the "end of the social sciences," and an event that conflates natural and human histories into one (e.g. Clive Hamilton’s blog; Latour 2004; Chakrabarty 2009). Eschatological pronouncements aside, redefining humanity as a force of nature rather than a set of autonomous biological units implies that traditional ways of structuring knowledge no longer suffice. Where successful interdisciplinary fields such as African-American and Women's studies were born out of the civil rights movement, contemporary preoccupation with global ecological collapse has resulted in such emergent fields as systems ecology and climate change studies.
Interdisciplinary collaborations are organizational and epistemological experiments in which the restructuring necessary to meet the challenge of climate change adaptation might occur. Many of these experiments will fail. The few that succeed have the potential to substantively reorient the ways in which knowledge is pursued. Every attempt will bring us closer to a science more closely matched to the social and environmental conditions of the Anthropocene.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2009. "The Climate of History: Four Theses." Critical Inquiry 35(2):197-222.
Jacobs, Jerry A. and Scott Frickel. 2009. "Interdisciplinarity: A Critical Assessment." Annual Review of Sociology 35(1):43-65
Latour, Bruno. 2004. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences Back into Democracy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.