Partial Truths: To Do Something Interdisciplinary

Thursday June 24 10:15

“Interdisciplinary work, so much discussed these days, is not about confronting already constituted disciplines (none of which, in fact, is willing to let itself go). To do something interdisciplinary it’s not enough to choose a “subject” (a theme) and gather around it two or three sciences. Interdisciplinarity consists in creating a new object that belongs to no one.”

Roland Barthes, “Jeunes Chercheurs”

A few words on interdisciplinarity that I recently came across from Roland Barthes, who I haven’t read exhaustively, but luckily my friend and writing partner Andrew Baird did. He turned me onto Barthes super short essay “The Reality Effect” in The Rustle of Language which helped me sort out a couple of dangling threads while writing my dissertation — “The Reality Effect of Technoscience”. ((It was, though, my other friend Sarah Jain shoving Latour’s Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies into my book shelf that really let me feel as though I could, after a 10 year hiatus, finish my dissertation.

Why do I blog this? I came across this while recollecting some of Jim Clifford’s work as he has been on mind after seeing him at his retirement jubilee up in Santa Cruz a few weekends ago. This comes from Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography which he edited with Greil Marcus. Some good essays in there, especially for me at the time when I was trying to figure out what the heck anthropology was, anyway.

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Digital Blur Book Launched

…and apparently available only in the UK presently. John Marshall and I have a manifesto-y essay towards the end of this.

Marshall and Bleecker, in their essay, propose the term “undisciplinary” for the type of work prevalent in this book. That is, creative practice which straddles ground and relationships between art, architecture, design and technology and where different idioms of distinct and disciplinary practices can be brought together. This is clearly evident in the processes and projects of the practitioners’ work here. Marshall and Bleecker view these kinds of projects and experiences as beyond disciplinary practice resulting in a multitude of disciplines “engaging in a pile-up, a knot of jumbled ideas and perspectives.” To Marshall and Bleecker, “undisciplinarity is as much a way of doing work as it is a departure from ways of doing work.” They claim it is a way of working and an approach to creating and circulating culture that can go its own way, without worrying about working outside of what histories-of-disciplines say is “proper” work. In other words, it is “undisciplined”. In this culture of practice, they continue, one cannot be wrong, nor have practice elders tell you how to do what you want to do and this is a good thing because it means new knowledge is created all at once rather than incremental contributions made to a body of existing knowledge. These new ways of working make necessary new practices, new unexpected processes and projects come to be, almost by definition. This is important because we need more playful and habitable worlds that the old forms of knowledge production are ill-equipped to produce. For Marshall and Bleecker, it is an epistemological shift that offers new ways of fixing the problems the old disciplinary and extra-disciplinary practices created in the first place. The creative practitioners contained within the pages of this book clearly meet the “undisciplinary” criteria suggested by Marshall and Bleecker in that they certainly do not need to be told how or what to do; they do not adhere to conventional disciplinary boundaries nor do they pay heed to procedural steps and rules. However, they know what’s good, and what’s bad and they instinctively know what the boundaries are and where the limits of the disciplines lie.

Continue reading Digital Blur Book Launched