Being Interdisciplinary

Adrian Ivakhiv has some thoughts on “The joy (& loneliness) of being interdisciplinarian“.

I am someone who did a first degree in Politics and Modern history – though taught from a single department of Government – with a PhD from that same department in what can best be described as political theory, and who then taught in a Politics and International Studies department for three years. I think I can therefore claim to be what North Americans tend to call a ‘political scientist’, although the ‘scientist’ part isn’t something I’m comfortable with. For a while I engaged more with philosophers and philosophy than anything else. I then moved to Geography. I have no qualifications in Geography – not even a GCSE. I’ve published in most of the key Geography journals. I edit a journal that Geographers see as one of their own, though it has always claimed to be an interdisciplinary journal, and I’ve continued to try to make it so. So can I claim to be a Geographer? If so – and while I’ve usually denied it myself, some eminent Geographers have insisted that I am – when did I become one? The day I was hired by Durham? At some point since?

If I had to take a label at all, I usually say that I do the history of ideas. I’ve done it in Politics departments; I now do it in a Geography department. It allows me – I think – to write on very contemporary issues such as the ‘war on terror’ in a way that is informed by transformations among concepts, or to work on Beowulf or Antigone. I see no reason why I shouldn’t work on Leibniz and Lebanon; Heidegger and hermaphrodites; Coriolanus and contingent sovereignty. Is this interdisciplinary? Transdisciplinary? Undisciplined? One of the good things about the position I’m in – and I fully recognise this is not the case for many people – is that I no longer need to care.

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7 Responses to Being Interdisciplinary

  1. Marc Kushin says:

    You’re very lucky then!

  2. Dear Stuart, I try to follow the same path – geography through interdisciplinarity while being anchored in a “political studies” department (which I’m more at ease and better fits my inclinations than “science”). I was first trained in history then in political science – discovering too late I was really being interested in political and cultural geography! You’re thus an inspiration in that regard and I certainly hope I will, in times, be able to write, like you, that “One of the good things about the position I’m in – and I fully recognise this is not the case for many people – is that I no longer need to care.” I say this whilst acknowledging that even in “interdisciplinarity”, there is always some inescapable (often cumbersome) disciplinary aspects to deal with.
    Happy Holidays!

  3. stuartelden says:

    thanks for the replies. My point was not that I don’t have to care in general, but that I don’t need to care whether it is acceptably disciplined or not. So yes, I am lucky, but it wasn’t necessarily that easy to get to this position.

  4. MattW says:

    Ahh, thanks for this post! I enjoy and learn from your blog regularly, but this post really offers some unexpected edification, too.

  5. seymourmo says:

    I no longer need to care either. I blog about what I want and I can’t imagine anyone who would publish me. I am working on DeLillo’s Cosmopolis now at and I just did a film review of Ides of March which is a major visual window into the Foucauldian grid of power/knowledge. I am noticing more and more searches on google meshing with my thinking.

  6. Marc Kushin says:

    Yes sorry, I wasn’t trying to suggest you were handed your good fortune on a plate! Keep up the good work in 2012! M

  7. Pingback: Spring semester kicks off | Open Geography

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