Epistemology and Practice: The Rise and Fall of an Interdisciplinary Program

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This paper revisits the key debates from the mid 20th Century that culminated in the acknowledgment of interdisciplinary studies as a critical component to understanding the social world. Whereas Enlightenment thinking in the Western world fostered a rigid demarcation among the social sciences and humanities as a means to claim the unique intellectual jurisdiction of each discipline, by the late 20th Century interdisciplinary studies was accredited as providing a much needed holistic approach to all intellectual inquiry. The rationale for interdisciplinary study is investigated in this paper drawing from a critical assessment of an existing Canadian interdisciplinary and interuniversity program in practice. It argues and demonstrates that owing to ebbs and flows of resources available to publically funded institutions, turfism and notions of discipline legitimacy in the academy, the same argument used to create interdisciplinary programs can and is being mobilized to dismantle some of them. In particular, interdisciplinarity is one means through which marginalized groups have attempted to transform mainstream inquiry, knowledge and scholarship. In this paper we trace a sharp disjuncture between ideological commitment to interdisciplinary work and the political realities of delivering such programs and find that the flexible inclusive stance needed to work across established disciplines seems to eventually invite challenges to the integrity of programs established twenty years ago.


Keywords: Intellectual Holism, Critical Program Assessment, Publicly Funded Institutions, Turfism, Discipline Legitimacy, Marginalization, Program Integrity
Stream: Sociology, Geography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: , Epistemology and Practice, Epistemology and Politics


Sandra Bell

Associate Professor, Sociology and Criminology Department, Saint Mary's University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Dr. Sandra Bell has a BA and MA in Sociology and Demography from the University of Western Ontario, London Ontario, Canada and a PhD in Sociology and Criminology from the University of Toronto, Toronto Canada. She is currently an associate professor of Criminology in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Canada. Her research interests include comparative and historical youth justice law reform and youth criminology with an emphasis on girls. Her interdisciplinary experience comes from teaching and coordinating undergraduate and graduate programs in Criminology and Women's Studies while located in a department primarily consisting of Sociologists. Here she teaches courses in research methods and statistics as well as substantive courses on youth crime and justice and feminist methodologies.

Dr. Mary Delaney

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology and Department of Women's Studies, Mount Saint Vincent University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


Jane Gordon

Professor, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Mount Saint Vincent University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


Dr. Audrey MacNevin

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Criminology, Saint Mary's University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


Ref: I08P0750