Note on Multidisciplinarity

When I was in a PhD program, and before that an MS, the academic researchers and the administration all talked about how important advances in science and scholarship will come from interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research.

Disciplinary boundaries had been mined through the decades and ages, and it is cross-disciplinary research where the findings will be made. This is still the predominant understanding. During my MS degree in Information Management and Systems, itself multidisciplinary (law, information science, business, engineering, human factors) (now merely called an MS in Information), I heard a talk from Lewis Lancaster, the founder of ECAI, the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative. The stories he told were quite astounding.

Lancaster strikes one as a frail, elderly man, but the sparkling eyes and sharp mind along with rather old-school gentlemanly demeanor is immediately charming. This was perhaps 14 years ago when I heard him speak at a small seminar, the Friday seminars on digital libraries or some such regular gathering. Two things I recall in particular:

  • The basic problem of cross-disciplinary research is anethma to the founding concept of academic research, specifically the dissertation: (the solitary researcher whose sole effort is evaluated and rewarded) and multidisciplinary collaboration (different skills and expertise brought together on a complex problem). This still bedevils academia.

  • The use of digital tools for various humanities research, including geolocation mapping, corpus search, etc., are extremely powerful and once the tedium and difficulties of digitization is complete, serious and interesting discoveries can be made which simply are not possible without such tools.

Now that I am in a completely different milieu and having been reminded of this kind of collaborative necessity (along with the multidisciplinarity of my Masters and Doctoral studies and research), it seems that the emergent social platforms are part and parcel of this kind of collaboration.

What is Facebook if not a collection of Information Management and Systems disciplines, or even more importantly the platform of Github and its associated and related projects, which seem to be even more fecund? It is this inter-multi-disciplinariness which is the driving force of development, as well as any kind of research into or serious reflection on the platform phenomena.