Contending with Complexity: A Response to William H. Newell's "A Theory of Interdisciplinary Studies"




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Association for Interdisciplinary Studies


"Newell has mounted a large, interesting, and deeply insistent argument to the effect that complexity theory should be adopted as both a rationale for interdisciplinary studies and a guide for its instructional, investigative, and interpretive activities and applications. I agree with him that those who take seriously the practice of interdisciplinary studies need theory, and that complexity theory has value in this regard. But I disagree with four crucial points in his argument: I. I do not think, as he implies, that our need of theory is rooted in any lack of candidates capable of providing a rationale for interdisciplinary studies and of guiding its activities, including integration. II. I do not think, as he suggests, that there is a collectivity of interdisciplinarians whose professional callings can all be usefully described as “necessitated by complexity.” III. I do not think, as he insists, that complexity makes interdisciplinarity necessary, or that interdisciplinarity is not required when complexity is absent. IV. I do not think his analogy between complexity theory and interdisciplinary process justifies his claim that the former is an adequate rationale and guide for the latter. These disagreements grow out of a basic difference of view about what makes interdisciplinary study necessary: For Newell, interdisciplinarity is required by the complexity of its subject matter. For me, interdisciplinarity is made necessary by the tendency of specialized inquiry to produce knowledge about parts that is too often used as if it were about wholes."




Bailis, Stanley. "Contending with complexity: A response to William H. Newell’s “A theory of interdisciplinary studies.”." Issues in Integrative Studies 19 (2001): 27-42.