23 February 2022

Mainstreaming interdisciplinarity: a commentary

AUN Writer Team

By Caryl Nikki D. Buenafe, AUN Intern

As a college student who pursues an interdisciplinary degree, specifically Asian Studies, a question I get a lot from friends and relatives is: “What is Asian Studies all about?” I answer with the simplest explanation – I smile and shrug off the query. Obviously, it’s a bad habit to practice, especially for someone who holds a responsibility to educate people around me. While I could probably answer: “It’s like international studies but Asia” or more specifically I could say, “It’s mostly about international relations and diplomacy. But It’s almost like political science too, but not entirely, as this degree also encompasses discussions withdrawn from history, sociology, economics, and even the arts. In short, it’s interdisciplinary!” There are different variations of response I could offer but explaining the idea in layman’s terms can be a bit too complicated. With the lack of awareness and promotion of interdisciplinarity seemingly persisting, it is important to raise awareness and understanding towards the essence of interdisciplinary education and why it is significant to the future of our society.

To understand the nature and emergence of interdisciplinary studies, let us first discuss what interdisciplinary studies actually are. According to Jill Vickers (1998), Interdisciplinary studies exists through extracting concepts across disciplines, and not by solely relying on a single claim. It produces new insights through borrowing techniques and mechanisms from disciplines to create a more comprehensive knowledge through the process of integration (Defining Interdisciplinary, p. 9-10). However, with this explanation, it must not be misunderstood that multidisciplinary studies and interdisciplinary studies also differ from each other. Thus, the keyword to remember is “integration”. Multidisciplinarity also draws insights from two or more disciplines, but it retains the individuality of each discipline to understand a problem. Meanwhile, interdisciplinarity integrates information, perspectives, and methods drawn from two or more disciplines to produce a comprehensive understanding of a complex problem (Defining Interdisciplinary, p. 16-17).

Interdisciplinary studies are surely encompassing; it crosses boundaries and connects disciplines together. Ergo, its significance and applicability are currently more emphasized than ever. The pressing 21st century global crises and trends expand from humanities and social science to natural science and technology – requiring a vast approach which can culminate in all possible solutions.

For instance, climate change is a relevant topic where an interdisciplinary perspective is applicable. Aside from the technical benefits of science, tackling environmental issues also demand political, philosophical, sociological, and psychological viewpoints; an extensive understanding of laws, environmental policies, societal principles, and people’s behavior must find its common ground to produce an inclusive conversation which will cater elaborate solutions prioritizing both soft and hard sciences. Because modern inventions alone would not provide a long-term fix to a global condition that has penetrated people’s ways of living. Apart from climate change, the ongoing discussion on digital literacy also showcases the importance of utilizing an interdisciplinary approach. As social media users, our utilization of the platform is not limited to the entertainment it provides, but also to the shared responsibility of spreading factual information and maintaining a healthy public discourse. These conditions entitle computer science to transcend journalism, mass communication, and even ethics; heeding a call for a more serious take on the incorporation of digital literacy in education.

But how can we effectively operationalize the mainstreaming of interdisciplinary studies? First, we should acknowledge that interdisciplinarity is not just some academic jargon – it’s an umbrella of perspectives which challenges conventional views to advance humankind’s methods of inquiry. Second, we should recognize and promote the culture of interdisciplinarity as a vital part of education; wherein education ministries could provide a much in-depth emphasis in its creation of curriculums to integrate the scholarly magnitude of interdisciplinarity as a subject and topic of interest.

Mainstreaming the essence of interdisciplinarity is significant because if left ignored; the lack of it can produce only a tunnel vision to the process of finding solutions to problems. Awareness about the fundamental nature of interdisciplinarity is crucial for the society to understand and overcome present challenges through the use of integrated and blended education – so that the complexities of today’s problems will cease to become the complications of tomorrow. Therefore, when someone asks me again about what my interdisciplinary undergraduate degree is all about, I shall smile and say, “it’s the future.”