Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Discipline" discussion notes - Feb. 8

This week’s readings pushed us to think about disciplines historically, in terms of internal and external factors, institutions and in the context of power. Also different authors employ different metaphors for thinking about disciplines.

We began discussion talking about the 1976 reading from Rosenberg, who is a historian of science and famous author in medicine. In the reading he uses the ecology of knowledge as a metaphor for disciplines. For example, biochemistry could grow because of other nearby disciplines. June asked, where in the ecology of knowledge paradigm does interdiciplinarity fit in? In this metaphor/paradigm, the definition of research discipline is just really flexible, with knowledge as part of a relational ecology.

Prof. Downey asked us to consider what Rosenberg is arguing against? He also noted that in 1976, the history of science itself was not an old field. In the 1970s there was a lot of planting the flag. June said it all made him think of Thomas Kuhn (I forgot why-PK). Prof. Kleinman said the internal/external dichotomy as a perspective for looking at disciplines was part of the 1970s flag planting, and that Rosenberg was an externalist guy. From the internal perspective, knowledge is understood as the basis of the discipline. From the external perspective, the disciplines are understood as being shaped by institutions. Prof. Downey said that at this time the idea that people not trained in science, should get to talk about science was a revolutionary idea.

Then we got into talking about how Rosenberg distinguishes between disciplines and professions (p229) in relationship to the society that supports them. Professions relate more directly to their support base—clients. We also talked about professions as a metaphor for disciplines and then thought of yet another metaphor for disciplines in the readings, egad! Comparing academic disciplines to the division of labor, like you might find in a factory (Prof. Downey got busy charting metaphors on the board).

June brought up the Abbot reading and how he talked about internal markets as a means by which disciplines keep their specialization, and sadly remarked about the lack of internal market for himself.

I (Patrice) jumped in with something incoherent about interdisciplinary categorizations of knowledge responding to ever-shifting problems. Thankfully, Prof. Downey made some sense of it, suggesting that what I was getting at was the question of why things change and why things stay the same. Why things reproduce themselves and what processes invite change. This brought us back to Thomas Kuhn, who’s argument—in a very general sense—is that science is about plugging away at some question. But then as people plug away they may eventually find disagreement in their work. Then paradigms could change or people split. This idea angered a lot of scientists and sociologists, especially scientists.

Haley raised the question about whether interdiscipline is just a specialized offshoot of a discipline or the outcome of different disciplines coming together?  This got Sunny thinking about an interesting example, and she asked us to consider the Nelson Institute as an interdisciplinary body. Prof. Kleinman said a case history of the Nelson institute would be a great class project! You could begin by looking at the programs and faculty they have. You might find that while the current director seeks serious integration of fields, the faculty and syllabi is maybe not so multidisciplinary. Nelson Institute has a major, but you have to have a second major to take it. Meanwhile CALS has tried to create an environmental sciences major.

Prof. Downey pulled up the Nelson Institute website and we looked at the language they. We noted that they use the word “studies” instead of “science” and “center” instead of “department”. Prof. Kleinman said at admin meetings faculty talk about centers as having sunset provisions, like they’ve run out of problems to solve. But no one says departments have sunset provisions.

Matt brought up the Santa Fe Institute as an interesting case study (another great topic for a class research project!—Prof. Kleinman). What is the structure of these departments? What are the demands made on researchers?

Jen brought up WID asking if anyone can point to evidence that researchers involved in WID think differently. That some things they have produced/done, would not have happened without the center? That got us into a conversation about whether we tend to essentialize individuals lives as being restricted to a single discipline. How much are we simplifying scientific training as being one coherent thing and an individual as a representative of it. Prof. Kleinman then brought up something analogic thinking. I think with respect to some book he was recommending. Prof. Downey brought up the “maker movement” and asked if you can be disciplinary and armature at the same time.

We then transitioned to the issue of gatekeeping and how it works (another good research topic!—Prof. Kleinman). We discussed when it gets more or less robust? Prof. Kleinman noted it’s a little less powerful in interdisciplinary spaces. We also discussed the different scales at which it occurs, who does it—i.e. NSF, journals, hiring committees. Someone raised the question, how do gatekeepers operate between knowledge ideals and practical power?

Finally, Meredith got a conversation going about academic knowledge as based on trust, which introduced questions about the evaluation of research in the context of interdisciplinary research (another great class project topic!—thinks Patrice). Prof. Downey asked, if you have an economist and microbiologist work on a problem, can they be gatekeepers for each others work? Economists vet the work of economists, through peer review. Prof. Kleinman noted that if interdisciplinary means putting together an economist and microbiologist—versus being an economist with some microbiology knowledge—then there is a lot of trust involved.

Project ideas
Case history of the Nelson institute
Case history of Santa Fe Institute
Issue of gatekeeping
Academic knowledge, trust & interdisciplinary research


June Jeon said...

Dramatic summary! Thank you Patrice!
For the clarification, the reason why I mentioned about Kuhn was to emphasize Rosenberg's rejection of the idea that 'intellectual history - or internal history' is sufficient to characterize the different natures of disciplines. In other words, Kuhn was, in this case, the symbol of 'internalist' even though his work had an implication about 'scientists' community'. Is this helpful? :) -June

patrice kohl said...

Thanks for filling in the gap, June.