The question of transdisciplinary working
The question of collaboration and ideas exchange across disciplines is an interesting one. The
concept of a discipline in itself is interesting. What is a discipline? What is that we are trying to
collaborate between here? I immediately question the implicit assumption that what we have
are “different” disciplines that we are attempting to re-integrate. Disciplines, by nature, take on
a form; we begin to determine that one mode or line of inquiry is relevant, and another is not,
thus shaping how we come to know this “thing” or that “discipline”, distinct from another.
Similar to how a collection of symptoms of ill-health becomes known as a specific diagnosis or
illness; we come to know it as a “something”. This classification in the world enables us to have
a shared sense of what it is that we are referring to when we speak of something. It is our
relationship to form.
The limitation of this way of being in the world is when we forget that this classification, or this
differentiated “thing”, is only an imposed construct; purposeful only in our relating to it. The
world itself is not actually differentiated in such a way, but is engaged in a complex, deeply
interconnected relationship. My sense about disciplines is that these too have become defined
by what is seen as relevant and what is not. By nature of them being differentiated, they are
however, related. Whether we look to science, the arts or the humanities; they are each simply
different ways which we, as humans, have sought to understand and express meaning in life.
They have each taken on their own methodologies, languages and cultures, all in pursuit of
bringing forth more clear ways of understanding. My understanding of a discipline is that it is in
service of those aspects of life, which it is in the study of. Taking my area of expertise as an
example, psychology is the “logos”- study of the “psyche”. The term psyche has become
synonymous with the “inner world”. Since the Cartesian split between mind and matter, the
study of the psyche (psychology) has become about the studying of the inner workings of the
human mind. No longer in applied psychology, such as Clinical Psychology, is the psyche
considered within its context – it has been differentiated and those aspects considered to be
“outside” of the psyche, such as environment or society have been relegated to the study of
other disciplines e.g. ecology and sociology. When, in the pursuit of inter-disciplinary working,
we invite a sociologist or an ecologist into a conversation about psychology, this movement
reveals the isolative nature of the way we’re thinking about the psyche; that it would require the
invitation of a professional from a different discipline to enter the conversation to include the
context of the psyche, when surely it can never be truly separated.
I am interested in looking at how can this “upstream” (Bortoft, 2012), phenomenological
approach of interacting and playing with disciplines and ideas make them more dynamic, thus
able to “integrate” aspects that would not otherwise be considered part of their ontology (i.e.
the arts within the sciences), but more importantly how they can begin to serve the audiences,
groups or target arenas that they are designed to influence. For example, re-establishing the
discipline of psychology within its environmental and societal contexts might have far-reaching
consequences of the way that we relate to people who are experiencing “problems of the
psyche” i.e. mental health difficulties. This is a different take on the nature of “inter-disciplinary”
work; to re-see the intrinsic relatedness of different disciplines rather than merely facilitating
communication between them.