Integrative Pathways 44-2 Interdisciplinarity in Global Studies

ISA 2022
Conference Roundtable:
Interdisciplinarity in Global Studies, Forms, Uses, Critique

Comments by Raymond Miller (March 2022)
Professor Emeritus of International Relations and Social Science
San Francisco State University

My entire higher education career has been based in interdisciplinary approaches to global studies. My Master’s program in Social Science at the University of Chicago took an integrated approach whereas my Social Science doctoral program at Syracuse University was multi-disciplinary in structure. For 43 years at San Francisco State I taught political economy, development studies and international relations from a thoroughly interdisciplinary perspective. 

In 1962, when I first arrived at San Francisco State, I began teaching in their interdisciplinary general education program. The fourth and culminating course in the social science segment was International and Intercultural Relations (SS 40). In my first ten years of teaching, I taught 2 sections of SS 40 every semester. Ironically, the interdisciplinary general education program was discontinued due to the student uprisings of the late 1960s. San Francisco State had the longest student and faculty strike in the history of American higher education. The student movement rejected all required courses. The disciplinary departments were waiting in the wings to welcome the students into their respective introductory courses. Of course, it was another kind of required course, but the argument was made that students choose their major. 

The dominant majors in the 1970s San Francisco State School of Behavioral and Social Sciences were the conventional disciplines that emerged in the beginning of the 20th century: anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology. In my view these are the core social science disciplines or basic building blocs from which all types of social science interdisciplinary juxtapositions or combinations arise. Of course, it is quite possible to cross boundaries into the broader structure of knowledge, but I will limit this discussion to the social sciences.

All of the seven conventional social science disciplines study some aspect of global phenomena. International Relations can and should encompass all of them. Therefore, it is not a conventional discipline. It is an interdisciplinary field. Unfortunately, in many American colleges and universities, international relations is a sub-field within political science. The holistic potential of international relations is significantly constrained by this historically arbitrary placement. From my perspective the theme of this conference (A Wider Discipline for a Smaller World) is misleading in these two respects. International Studies is not a discipline but an interdisciplinary field. Furthermore, its subordination to the discipline of political science prevents it from becoming “wider.”

Thanks to an historical fluke, the International Relations Department at San Francisco State is separate from Political Science. I used that freedom to create and teach interdisciplinary courses in urbanization, modernization, environmental problems, and international political economy. The fluke happened after Word War II when more specialized academic units were being formulated. The two faculty members who were teaching political stuff could not stand each other. So, the man became the first professor of political science and the woman became the first professor of international relations. Sorry to say, the separation, which still exists today, did not involve any discussions about disciplines or interdisciplines.

Besides my international relations track, I also was based in the interdisciplinary social science program. In that capacity I thought a lot about the meaning of disciplines and interdisciplines. My latest thinking was published in the International Studies Compendium as part of the contribution of the Interdisciplinary Studies Section. (Interdisciplinarity: Its Meaning and Consequences, 2010) It has been updated twice, in 2015 and 2020. Doing the last update was a pain because not only has Oxford taken over the project, but also the editing shifted from the Section to the General Editor. The General Editor was a Political Scientist who didn’t like some of my commentary and wanted to delete it. I argued back, but then she retired, and the new Editor accepted my revised updates for publication.

My Definition of Discipline has twelve attributes. Its key component is world view, a constructionist concept that I borrowed from anthropology. Each discipline’s world view or paradigm is composed of its demarcated field of study, underlying premises, shared concepts, organizing theories/models, truth-determining methods, and shared values and norms. In my textbook on International Political Economy (2018), I use world view as a comparative method for understanding its three major schools of thought: free market, institutionalism (multi-centric organizational) and Marxism (critical studies). These days the concept world view is used by many pundits and journalists in an effort to understand the behavior, beliefs, and reality determinants of different groups, especially because they are so fixed and divergent. Cognitive linguist Lakoff (2017) states that “World views are complex neural circuits fixed in the brain. People can only understand what fits the neural circuitry in their brains. Real facts can be filtered out by world views.”

My typology of interdisciplinary studies starts with three categories from weak to strong: multi, cross, and trans. The crossdisciplinary category involves degrees of combination or integration and is so plentiful and varied that I have divided it into six subcategories: social topics, professional preparation, shared analytical methods, shared concepts, hybrids, and shared life experiences.

In my view, the field of international or global studies only successfully achieves its highest objectives when it is conceived and practiced as an independent, interdisciplinary field. 

References:

Lakoff, George (2017). 9 strategies to beat Donald Trump, Now Toronto. https://nowtoronto.com/news/9-strategies-to-beat-donald-trump 

Miller, Raymond C. (2020) Interdisciplinarity: Its Meaning and Consequences, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies (online).

Miller, Raymond C. (2018) International Political Economy: Contrasting World Views (2nd ed), London, UK: Routledge.

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