Interdisciplinary Terminology

Interdisciplinarity is a “methodology/process of pursuing a question, solving a problem, and/or addressing a topic that cannot be dealt with adequately by a single discipline or perspective. It draws on knowledge from both within and outside disciplinary boundaries, forging intellectual partnerships, and seeking to integrate these insights through the self-conscious and purposeful creation of a more comprehensive solution” (Interdisciplinary Enhancement Committee, Miami University, 2011).

The goals of such integrative efforts include:

  • construction of new knowledge;
  • development of new strategies for discovering knowledge;
  • creation of new partnerships to foster the generation and application of knowledge; and
  • recognition of novel ways of perceiving phenomena that differ from the established disciplines, resulting in an increased relevance to these disciplines.

Narrow interdisciplinarity involves interaction between disciplines with similar paradigms and methods, such as English and history or chemistry and physics.  Because there are fewer or more closely related disciplines involved, which simplifies communication among team members, the disciplinary outputs can be more easily integrated.

Broad interdisciplinarity involves interaction between disciplines with widely divergent paradigms or methods, such as art and mathematics.

Other Terms Relating to Interdisciplinarity

A discipline can be “characterized as a socio-political organization which concentrates on a historically linked set of problems. … Disciplines are also distinguished from one another by the questions they ask about the world, by their perspective or world view, by the set of assumptions they employ, and by the methods which they use to build up a body of knowledge (facts, concepts, theories) around a certain subject matter” (Newell and Green).

Adisciplinarity posits the view that disciplines are not always necessary for learning and constructing new ideas. Adisciplinary courses often address a general theme such as hunger or time, but there is no self-conscious discussion of disciplinary insights that contribute to understanding that theme.

Transdisciplinarity are comprehensive frameworks that transcend the narrow scope of disciplinary worldviews through an overarching synthesis. This typically leads to a search for a super-discipline (e.g., systems theory, Marxism, structuralism, feminism).  Transdisciplinary courses are often theoretical and are focused on creating a holistic understanding of the world, nature, or society.

Multidisciplinarity generally focuses on the separate contributions that selected disciplines make to a problem or issue.  Multidisciplinary educators are less concerned with integrating disciplinary insights and may arrange courses so that the separate disciplines are presented in serial fashion.

Cross-disciplinary inquiries are usually based in one discipline in such a fashion that the second discipline becomes an object of study rather than an active system of thought. An example is a physics professor describing the physics of music.

Integrative learning is “an umbrella term for structures, strategies, and activities that bridge numerous divides, such as high school and college, general education and the major, introductory and advanced levels, experiences inside and outside the classroom, theory and practice, and disciplines and fields” (Klein, 2005).