The power of interdisciplinarity

There have been a few interesting events organised and hosted by the NPCU lately: a symposium on Downing Street’s E-Petitions initiative on 30 Jan, a HARC roundtable entitled “the Internet and the death of television?” yesterday, and a talk by Dr Bart Cammaerts from the LSE on his new book Mind the Gap: Internet-Mediated Practices Beyond the Nation State today. All were mind-provoking. I will write separate posts about them shortly. This post is just about a passing thought during the roundtable.

If we simply go by the fun scale, the Internet versus TV debate was most entertaining. Different perspectives were offered, e.g. the decline of participatory TV and the increase of participatory Web (Andy Chadwick), the 50s-60s’ normative vision promoted by computer advocates that WANTED to kill TV (Bill Dutton) and the still important cultural weight TV carries (John Ellis), all of which were equally convincingly insightful. This kind of debate is not meant to achieve some sort of consensus, or a ‘verdict’ as Lina the Chair put it, is it?

When the event was about to be wrapped up, a historian among the audience raised a question, “The print hasn’t died yet [despite the challenges it has been faced with]. Why don’t we just sit back and see what happens?” Apart from being my personal favourite, this question/comment made me realise how each participant’s take did reflect their disciplinary root. Political scientists tend to focus on power structures or institutional dynamics and media scholars like John Ellis place an emphasis on the importance of the centralised editorial process that the traditional media have and the Internet doesn’t. For historians, the Internet may be just too a new thing to look into. 😀

Interdisciplinarity is a buzz word to be plugged in grant proposals nowadays. Is it however a myth? Is it something one can actually deliver? Perhaps this is why collaboration is more and more encouraged. Anyway, I couldn’t help smiling on my way back home as the last remark reminded me of the old joke about how people from various disciplines would put an elephant in a fridge – a mathematician differentiates it first and integrates it inside the fridge, etc.


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