Given how there is a bit of “history,” “biology,” “sociology,” and “physics” in all academic inquiries and this is increasingly recognized and embraced and given how much we know (and don’t know!), academic conversations frequently involve at least some discussion of whether are not academic “subjects” remain useful? or where they ever useful?
People sometimes suggest they we are have reached a point of multi-, anti-, or post-disciplines. These questions are something I think about often, and in this post, I explore some thoughts related to these categories. Let me know what you think!
For starters, academic disciplines were/are designed to “discipline” or organize, train, and structure our thinking, teaching, and writing. To say we are at a point of anti-disciplines would mean we’re against having such a structure, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and maybe also that said structures are harmful in some way.
To say we are post-discipline would mean we’ve grown past needing disciplines to discipline our practices. That we’re all experts on everything. That we’ve reach a point of maturity and knowledge that we no longer need separate “subjects.” Such a philosophy might be fine, but I worry that even scholars and their human fleshes would gradually narrow the range of knowledge studied and taught if a post-discipline philosophy was embraced en masse. I suspect that in time there would be some combination of “the ‘elite’ subjects” (whatever that was determined to be) that was actually studied and most knowledge would become neglected. For example, hard math and science might be the only thing to really receive attention. And too that the “post-discipline” set of knowledge would also eventually be broken into categories, and we would have all of these questions emerge again. And too…we’re far, far, far from all being expects on everything or anything.
As a result, I favor a multi-discipline or an across-the-discipline / across-the-curriculum approach. I consider myself a multi-disciplinarian. We need the theories, methodologies, strengths and weakness, histories, and knowledge sets of all the different academic discourses. Sure there is overlap between history, literature, and sociology, but these fields approach questions in different ways, from different starting points, and with different eyes. And this is beautiful. Cultural Studies, Performace Studies, and other newer academic subjects embrace this (and at the same time, are kind of post-discipline but aren’t on the verge of “taking over” by any means).
When we combine and mix “the subjects,” we find the best answers. Thus, I firmly believe we need to further create a state of multi-disciplinarianism – books, classrooms, conversations, and more focused on the philosophy of seeing as much as we can, combining as much as we can, yet remaining firmly committed to also teaching and practicing art, anthropology, chemistry, criminology, philosophy, psychology, and more. “Subjects” help organize our thinking and remain responsible to various audiences.
Andrew Joseph Pegoda