June 12, 2008

Modeling the Demands of Interdisciplinarity

Toward a framework for evaluating interdisciplinary endeavors

By Zachary Stein

I suggest there are two key factors that bear on the quality of interdisciplinary endeavors: the complexity of cognition and collaboration and the epistemological structure of interdisciplinary validity claims. The former suggests a hierarchical taxonomy of forms of inquiry involving more than one discipline. Inspired by Jantsh (1972) and looking to Fischer's (1980) levels of cognitive development, I outline the following forms: disciplinary, multi-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and trans-disciplinary.

This hierarchical taxonomy based on complexity is then supplemented by an epistemological discussion concerned with validity. I look to a handful of philosophers to distill the general epistemological structure of knowledge claims implicating more than one discipline. This involves differentiating between levels-of-analysis issues and perspectival issues. When all is said and done, we end up with a “language of evaluation” applicable to interdisciplinarity endeavors. Ultimately, this suggests an ideal mode of interdisciplinary endeavoring roughly coterminous with Wilber's (2006) 'Integral Methodological Pluralism'.

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