A second rant, since I’m doing this in twos: when interdisciplinary goes wrong

I want a girl with shoes that cut/and eyes that burn like cigarettes... -Cake

I’m trying this year to work on a project that is considered “interdisciplinary.” I’ve been asked to look at it “as the rhetorician.” That’s no problem for me. I like being the rhetoric person. My take on rhetoric is a little different than many, but I can justify the moves I make, going back to fountainhead Aristotle and twisting from him.

Here’s the problem, though. Rhetoric is not a well-defined discipline. If I walk into a room with a chemist, a cartographer and a plumber, no one’s going to ask the chemist to explain, from the origin of his field to now, why he’s mixing the silver nitrate with the hydrocholoric acid. No one’s going to want the cartographer to trace back to cave paintings to explain why he can make a map, and no one will expect the plumber to reference natural stone formations as he talks about how water is bent.

As a rhetorician, we’re still expected to define what rhetoric IS before we do it. Imagine if Kobe Bryant had to stop and explain the history of basketball before taking a fall away jumper. Imagine if Tom Brady had to explain what “metrosexual” meant before hitting the street with his manpurse. It’s unheard of.

So in this interdisciplinary project, people keep asking me why I don’t use this or that… or why I can’t go back to this or that theorist. And I have to explain “I’m not looking at it THAT way.” I am attempting, in this project, to look at things through a Native American (actually a Cherokee) lens, THEN pulling in a few select western theorists to expand the scope.

Perhaps I’m becoming too… arrogant, but I feel like as a PhD student, this is the time for me to start saying “okay, here’s my thinking, and I want to defend it and see where it goes.”

I love the idea of interdisciplinarity, but if we’re going to come together, it seems like we shouldn’t try to box each other in. Or in other words, I won’t ask the math guy to explain to me why there are digits from 0-9 if he doesn’t ask me why I can’t just use Foucault for everything.



One Response to A second rant, since I’m doing this in twos: when interdisciplinary goes wrong

  1. k8 says:

    Something must be in the air. I ranted about issues with interdisciplinary work back in January.

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