New College Writing Program

An Interdisciplinary Approach

If we think of inquiry, then, as the ongoing pursuit of knowledge, an interdisciplinary approach to that kind of process involves seeking information from across academic disciplines, that is, from multiple perspectives.

Most universities, Arizona State University included, are made up of colleges. A college within a university is typically home for separate academic departments or degree programs. The New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, for instance, is made up of Schools, each of which contains separate academic programs or disciplines in which students can pursue majors.

For instance, go to the New College homepage to see the range of different degree programs offered by the New College. Do you see anything that interests you? What about a degree in Life Sciences? Peace Studies? History? Sociology? Psychology? Communications? Applied Mathematics or Applied Computing? English? Maybe a double major?

Whatever discipline most interests you, an interdisciplinary approach can enrich your learning because of its emphasis on using multiple fields of ideas, inquiry, and methods of research. For researchers and writers serious about addressing important questions and issues, one set of methods to analyzing and understanding is probably not sufficient on its own. Chances are your chosen major is already richly interdisciplinary.

Getting more concrete will help us think more carefully about taking an interdisciplinary approach as a researcher and a writer.  Think, for example, of an issue you have likely heard about, binge drinking on college and university campuses. Clearly this phenomenon raises concerns in many quarters, and scholars from many disciplines research this problem to understand and address it.

The perspective from which a scholar approaches a particular issue depends on his or her discipline. A psychologist, for example, may examine the emotional and cognitive disposition that leads people to “binge drink” while studying the impact of “peer pressure” among college drinkers. Scholars in the field of gender studies may examine which groups -- male or female -- are more prone to alcohol abuse; they may also study the relationship between alcohol abuse and the abuse of women.  A mathematician may explore statistics related to alcohol related deaths on campuses throughout the United States as a whole or region by region. Scholars of education might study the impact of alcohol abuse on learning and trends in university policy relating to alcohol consumption on campuses. And the list goes on. We mean simply to illustrate how one topic can be viewed from many interests and perspectives.

To demonstrate how interdisciplinarity contributes to greater learning, let’s consider another sadly familiar issue from a range of disciplines. Take some time to think about how each of the disciplinary perspectives listed below might approach the issue of domestic abuse. What kinds of questions might be asked by scholars within these disciplines? How might these different disciplines view the subject matter? Where might there be overlap? When you are finished, consider how this breadth of knowledge helps you gain a more enhanced understanding of the issue.

You will also find more information about “An Interdisciplinary Approach” in this Exercise Tab.

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