On Radical Interdisciplinarity

I spent this past year as a Research Fellow with the Futures Initiative, a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Queens College, a HASTAC Scholar, and a student in Cathy Davidson and Bill Kelly’s “Mapping the Futures of Higher Education” course. I also was, and continue to be, a doctoral student in the English department at The Graduate Center, at the City University of New York.

Much of my year was spent trying to make sense of how all of these different projects fit together. It was a year in which I experienced radical interdisciplinarity: interactions, conversations, and collaborations with academics whose assumptions, histories, methodologies, and objectives are radically distinct from my own. Not only did my work span multiple areas of humanities research and teaching, as well as multiple kinds of learning environments and institutions, it also stretched across disciplines as I worked with colleagues in the sciences. While it’s not uncommon to collaborate within the humanities, very rarely will a doctoral student (or tenured professor) in English join an academic conversation with a doctoral student (or tenured professor) in chemistry as a peer and as a collaborator. In doing so, I was prompted to critically reflect on my own intellectual investments in the study of rhetoric, culture, aesthetics, politics, history, and power. These experiences challenged me to interrogate the very foundations of everything I know—what counts as a meaningful object of analysis, how it can be studied, what can be said about it, and to what effects. English courses have allowed me to explore the many ways in which language, culture, experience, and emotions can matter—i.e., how they relate to social change. However, in the interdisciplinary spaces opened up by the Futures Initiative, I was challenged to argue for the value of what, in many conversations within English departments, we have the pleasure of taking for granted (and truly, it is a pleasure—it feels good). I often struggled to articulate why we should even be discussing rhetoric, culture, aesthetics, politics, and history, in the first place, especially when talking to colleagues whose fields of study yield outcomes that are far easier to measure and quantify.

Read the full post on HASTAC.