[Humanist] 32.51 when do we stop

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue May 29 07:36:13 CEST 2018

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 51.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 28 May 2018 09:46:24 +0200
        From: Manfred Thaller <manfred.thaller at uni-koeln.de>
        Subject: Re:  32.44 when do we stop?
        In-Reply-To: <20180525060758.680FC1589 at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>

Dear Willard,

Am 25.05.2018 um 08:07 schrieb Humanist Discussion Group:
> how to persuade those in fields more constrained than mine
> that I'm saying anything at all.

it took me some time to think how to answer that, expressing my opinion, 
without spreading a flavour of pessimism, which I actually do NOT have.

I think (and that is, what might delude one into feeling of pessimism) 
that all superficial surface declarations not withstanding, the general 
interest in "interdisciplinarity", leave alone transdisciplinarity, is 
actually NOT particularly developed.

What the overwhelming majority of interdisciplinary projects I am aware 
of strive to accomplish, is to borrow some concept, method (or in the IT 
domain) tool from another discipline to solve a problem in your own 
discipline. Time being finite, preferably without having to learn 
anything about the other discipline, which is not immediately relevant 
to the loan you are going to make. (That is also the reason, why 
"interdisciplinary cooperation", where a scholar of discipline "A" 
assigns the work to be done in discipline "B" to a scholar active in 
that other discipline, is so immensely popular. It has the big 
advantage, that scholar "A" does not have to learn anything new.)

Let me stress, that I do NOT want to sound (or be read as) derogatory. I 
am fully aware, that time is finite and it IS a hard decision, to learn 
something new, where it is not immediately clear how it will be useful, 
while all those deadlines in your home discipline loom.

In my opinion, "interdisciplinarity" starts only, if you are taking an 
interest in a question of another discipline, because you find that 
question intriguing, NOT because you think, it could enhance your 
understanding of the question in your own discipline you have started 
from. And that is rare enough. (Even if the scholars of that other 
discipline are usually very welcoming (at least as long as they do not 
recognize competition for their traditional funding :=) ), being 
flattered about the unexpected interest from the outside.)

"That is rare enough": Formulated as it is, because I think, what you 
strive for is going beyond that. What you try to achieve, is not an 
interest in questions from two (or more disciplines), but of questions, 
which can only be recognized as such, when you have both sides in view. 
A.k.a. as "transdisciplinarity". And this is very dangerous ground. Peer 
reviewers of one discipline only notice what is missing from their own 
background, not understanding what the value added from the other 
background is.

So "transdisciplinarity" also usually works best, if it is very closely 
connected to the tradition of one set of disciplines and basically 
imports glamour from the rest. If you take it serious, well ...

> how to persuade those in fields more constrained than mine
> that I'm saying anything at all.

Can it not simply be fun to say (or just think) it? Even in very mundane 
things, completely outside of academia, only very few people will react 
immediately to a genuinely new proposal, though the may endorse it 
enthusiastically a weekend later.

Be happy in the sowing and do not worry too much about the harvest.

[ Yes, it is MUCH easier to have this attitude once you are retired: 

Kind regards,

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