Towards an Understanding of Interdisciplinarity: The Case of a British University

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Association for Interdisciplinary Studies


This study explores what academics in one major university in Great Britain (The Great Western University) perceive interdisciplinary research (IDR) to be, and in doing so, differtiates it from associated concepts, such as multidisciplinary research and transdisciplinary research, found in the research literature. This study is important because the university in which the study is set has undertaken a complete restructuring of colleges and departments to support interdisciplinary research. The inquiry utilized a two-phased, mixed methods, descriptive case study to examine perceptions of the nature, significance, and benefits of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research. The methods of the data collection were semi-structured interview (25 participants), survey (127 participants) and analysis of archival documents. The findings indicate that the restructuring of The Great Western University to support interdisciplinary research began on less than firm footing. While scholars seem to have clarified the definitions of interdisciplinary approaches, in practice there still is a lack of clarity in sectors which are less familiar with interdisciplinary approaches to solving major problems facing society. We identified issues of clarity of terminology and mission, flexibility of implementation, and alignment of faculty incentives as involving necessary but unmet conditions for fostering and promoting interdisciplinarity throughout the university.



Interdisciplinarity, Interdisciplinary research, Cross-disciplinary research, Transdisciplinary research, Multidisciplinary research, Clarity, Flexibility, Alignment


Razzaq, Jamila, J. Pisapia, and T. Townsend. "Towards an understanding of interdisciplinarity: The case of a British university." Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies 31 (2013): 149-173.