Interdisciplinary Approaches

Interdisciplinary Approaches


"Disciplinary thinking has become harmful to the earth and human communities." - Ford, 2002



Michel Foucault was an early and exemplary practitioner of interdisciplinary studies. In the 1960’s he challenged the humanities with a bestselling book (in France) called The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, comparing knowledges across disciplines of biology, linguistics, and political economy and relating them to philosophy. Foucault notes, “this comparative method produces results that are often strikingly different from those to be found in a single-discipline study” (1970, p. x). His “archaeological” practice of examining knowledge through a history of adjacent practices, places, ideas and objects unearths an “unconscious” of knowledge, or “rules of formation, which were never formulated in their own right, but are to be found only in widely differing theories, concepts, and objects of study….” (1970, p. xi). In the 1970’s Foucault wrote Discipline and Punish, in which he critiques “a society penetrated through and through with disciplinary mechanisms.” He rhymed disciplinary divisions in the human sciences (health, education, sociology, philosophy, history, etc.) with prison practices of the 18th century that also created “multiple separations, individualizing distributions…an intensification and ramification of power” (1977). For Foucault, an attitude or ethos of interdisciplinary critique is as close as we get to the practice of freedom.


Interdisciplinary approaches support complex understandings by engaging multiple intelligences. This model encourages us to to build from within, developing personal approaches to course assignments. Gardner (1999) argues, “All of us possess linguistic intelligence (epitomized by the poet or orator); logical-mathematical intelligence (the scientist, the logician); musical intelligence (the composer or performer); spatial intelligence (sailor or sculptor); bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence (athlete, dancer); naturalist intelligence (hunter, botanist); interpersonal intelligence (clinician, salesman); and intrapersonal intelligence (individual with a keen understanding of himself/herself). There may also be an existential intelligence that reflects humans’ propensity to pose and struggle with the enigmas of life, death, the cosmos, and fate” (p. 78). His research shows that all people possess these multiple intelligences, but not in equal measure. Individuals are most readily engaged and successful in certain modes of knowing. People can enhance their particular intelligences and alter their profile of strengths and weaknesses. An interdisciplinary approach to Education and Research engages and enhances multiple intelligences by offering readers and writers a range of entry points.


E O Wilson advocates interdisciplinary approaches.


The Assignment Possibilities Matrix is designed to suggest ways we might use interdisciplinary approaches to initiate Transformative Projects.


Gardner, H. (1999). Multiple approaches to understanding. In C. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models. (Vol. 2., pp. 69-90). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.


Lattuca, L., L. Voight & K. Fath. (2004). Does interdisciplinarity promote learning? Theoretical support and researchable questions. The Review of Higher Education, 28 (1), 23-48. Retrieved March 18, 2005 from the ProjectMuse database.