Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Giving Meaning to Interdisciplinarity in the Organization of Universities - A Symposium on the Occasion of Helmut Schelsky's 100th Birthday

Date: April 12 - 13, 2012

Convenors: Peter Weingart (Bielefeld), Britta Padberg (ZiF)

The meaning of interdisciplinarity Interdisciplinarity is an inflationary concept in the discourses of higher education and science policy. Yet, although many meanings are attached to it, some recent structural reforms in European and US universities reflect fundamental changes in the organization of knowledge production and teaching. On the occasion of Helmut Schelsky's centennial the ZiF wanted to take a fresh look at the meaning given to the concept of interdisciplinarity with these reforms, thus also to reflect on what has become of Schelsky's ideas that instructed the foundation of the ZiF and the Bielefeld University.

In the first part of the conference examples of different forms of interdisciplinary research organization and teaching were presented. These featured Arizona State University and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) with their (partial) re-structuring of disciplinary departments into thematically oriented centers or schools as well as Leuphania University at Lüneburg and Maastricht University with their interdisciplinary teaching programs.
In the second part these case studies were put in the broader context of reflections on developments in the organization of universities and their implications for knowledge production.
The crucial issue underlying the implementation of interdisciplinary structures in universities is the relationship between the direction of research and teaching according to criteria of relevance internal to science and according to problems posed 'externally' by civil society. Some universities explicitly respond to the latter ('great challenges') because they consider the (widening?) gap between the former and the latter also as a problem of legitimacy.
Summarizing the presentations and discussions the following points emerged: The orientation of knowledge production is gaining importance, the notion of 'broader impacts' assumes the function of legitimating resource. The obstacles to interdisciplinarity are substantial: most important among them is the internal competition of epistemes or disciplinary cultures that makes comparison of standards difficult if not impossible. In the organization of universities it posits (disciplinary) departments against central administrations. Externally, legal frames may be in the way (conditions differ between Germany and the US), but especially the European examples all show that 'testing the limits' in an innovative spirit is a successful strategy.
Reforming the organization of universities requires the re-thinking of the organization of knowledge production, -diffusion and -use. While disciplinary organization has the respective scientific communities as their relevant public, new publics have emerged and claim influence. In a sense that is the price of success and democratization. Specialization and 'overproduction' have led to a crisis (visible in the publication industry) of storage and retrieval of knowledge.
The presentation of universities to the outside public as it is executed in the formulation of 'mission statements' by PR offices shows a certain helplessness but the longer term and indirect effects will most likely be the creation of diverse identities. The creation of 'research clusters' that has become a fashionable form of funding is not only a managerial fad but may be seen as a response to outside expectations that will be translated to the inside. But they carry their problems: one is enrolment-the role of collegiality. Everywhere one can observe conflicts between clusters or centers and departments, most often expressed as conflicts over epistemic rigor. However, it must not be seen as a zero-sum game.

Finally, interdisciplinarity is not an objective for its own sake. Its equation with innovativeness often found in science policy discourse is vacuous. It can only be successful if it responds to concrete problems and if it is feasible epistemically. But organization is crucial to facilitate it.

strong>The New University and Its Local and Global Challenges
Michael Crow (Arizona, USA)

Interdisciplinarity and the Modernist Roots of the Academy
Robert Frodeman (Texas, USA)

Mission Statements of German Universities – Bland Sameness or Diverse University Brands?
Anna Kosmützky (Kassel, GER)

"Cross the Border, Close the Gap!" – Reinventing the University as an Interdisciplinary Enterprise
Wolfgang Marquardt (Aachen, GER)

Opportunities and Obstacles of University Reform
Uwe Schimank (Bremen, GER)


Mathhias Adam | Darmstadt | DEU, Philippe Blanchard | Bielefeld | DEU, Mareike Blömker | Bielefeld | DEU, Klaus Bock | Perpignan | FRAU, Michael Borggräfe | Kassel | DEU, Christiane Büchter | Bielefeld | DEU, Kai Buchholz | Hannover | DEU, Gunilla Budde | Oldenburg | DEU, Michael M. Crow | Tempe, AZ | USA, Helmut de Rudder | Lüneburg | DEU, Regina Dickmann | Bielefeld | DEU, Patrice Duran | Cachan | FRAU, Dagmar Eberle | Essen | DEU, Martin Egelhaaf | Bielefeld | DEU, Claudius Elmenthaler | Bielefeld | DEU, Walter Erhart | Bielefeld | DEU, Clemens Escher | Berlin | DEU, Jürgen Feldhoff | Bielefeld | DEU, Eberhard Firnhaber | Bielefeld | DEU, Heike Franz | Bielefeld | DEU, Robert Frodeman | Denton, TX | USA, Julika Griem | Darmstadt | DEU, Johannes Hellermann | Bielefeld | DEU, Katja Hinz | Bielefeld | DEU, Stefan Hornbostel | Berlin | DEU, Harm Hospers | Maastricht | NLD, Karl Hermann Huvendick | Bielefeld | DEU, Tobias Just | Heidelberg | DEU, Moritz Kaßmann | Bielefeld | DEU, Matthias Knahl | Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock | DEU, Jan-Hendrik König | Hannover | DEU, Anna Kosmützky | Kassel | DEU, Bernt Krebs | Münster | DEU, Thorsten Michael Kreissig | Hamburg | DEU, Detlef Löhe | Karlsruhe | DEU, Hermann Lübbe | Zürich | CHE, Sabine Maasen | Basel | CHE, Wolfgang Marquardt | Aachen | DEU, Claudia Muhl | Bielefeld | DEU, Natalia Petrillo | Bielefeld | DEU, Klaus Reinhold | Bielefeld | DEU, Markus Rohe | Essen | DEU, Ingrid Rudolph | Bad Homburg | DEU, Gerhard Sagerer | Bielefeld | DEU, Sabine Schelsky | Berlin | DEU, Uwe Schimank | Bremen | DEU, Claudia Schlager | Coburg | DEU, Andreas Schlüter | Essen | DEU, Marén Schorch | Bielefeld | DEU, Anita Schroven | Bielefeld | DEU, Helmut Skowronek | Bielefeld | DEU, Heinz-Rudi Spiegel | Essen | DEU, Sascha Spoun | Lüneburg | DEU, Iris Steidle | Hannover | DEU, Sonka Stein | Essen | DEU, Helmut Steiner | Bielefeld | DEU, Hartmann Tyrell | Bielefeld | DEU, Ipke Wachsmuth | Bielefeld | DEU, Thorsten Wilhelmy | Köln | DEU, Indra Willms-Hoff | Hannover | DEU, Mathias Winde | Berlin | DEU, Paul Wolters | Bielefeld | DEU, Lothar Zechlin | Duisburg | DEU, Magdalena Zürner | Essen | DEU

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