Dictionary Definition

interdisciplinary adj : drawing from or characterized by participation of two or more fields of study; "interdisciplinary studies"; "an interdisciplinary conference"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of or pertaining to multiple distinct academic disciplines or fields of study.

Related terms


of or pertaining to multiple distinct academic disciplines or fields of study

Extensive Definition

Interdisciplinary is a term of art in several professions concerned with education and training that refers to the qualities of studies that cut across several established disciplines or traditional fields of study. This involves researchers, students, and teachers in the goals of connecting and integrating several academic disciplines, professions, or technologies, along with their specific perspectives, in the pursuit of a common task. Interdisciplinary approaches typically focus on problems felt by the investigators to be too complex or vast to be dealt with the knowledge and tools of a single discipline, for example, the epidemiology of AIDS or global warming. The term may be applied where the subject is felt to have been neglected or even misrepresented in the traditional disciplinary structure of research institutions, for example, women's studies or ethnic area studies.
The adjective interdisciplinary is most often used in educational circles when researchers from two or more disciplines pool their approaches and modify them so that they are better suited to the problem at hand, including the case of the team-taught course where students are required to understand a given subject in terms of multiple traditional disciplines. For example, the subject of land use may appear differently when examined by different disciplines, for instance, biology, chemistry, economics, geography, and politics.
In a sense, interdisciplinary involves attacking a subject from various angles and methods, eventually cutting across disciplines and forming a new method for understanding the subject. A common goal of understanding unites the various methods and acknowledges a common or shared subject or problem, even if it spreads to other disciplines.


Although interdisciplinary and interdisciplinarity are frequently viewed as twentieth century terms, the concept has historical antecedents, most notably Greek philosophy. Julie Thompson Klein attests that "the roots of the concepts lie in a number of ideas that resonate through modern discourse—the ideas of a unified science, general knowledge, synthesis and the integration of knowledge" while Giles Gunn says that Greek historians and dramatists took elements from other realms of knowledge (such as medicine or philosophy) to further understand their own material.
Interdisciplinary programs sometimes arise from a shared conviction that the traditional disciplines are unable or unwilling to address an important problem. For example, social science disciplines such as anthropology and sociology paid little attention to the social analysis of technology throughout most of the twentieth century. As a result, many social scientists with interests in technology have joined science and technology studies programs, which are typically staffed by scholars drawn from numerous disciplines. They may also arise from new research developments, such as nanotechnology, which cannot be addressed without combining the approaches of two or more disciplines. Examples include quantum information processing, an amalgamation of quantum physics and computer science, and bioinformatics, combining molecular biology with computer science.
At another level interdisciplinarity is seen as a remedy to the harmful effects of excessive specialization. On some views, however, interdisciplinarity is entirely indebted to those who specialize in one field of study—that is, without specialists, interdisciplinarians would have no information and no leading experts to consult. Others place the focus of interdisciplinarity on the need to transcend disciplines, viewing excessive specialization as problematic both epistemologically and politically. When interdisciplinary collaboration or research results in new solutions to problems, much information is given back to the various disciplines involved. Therefore, both disciplinarians and interdisciplinarians may be seen in complementary relation to one another.


There are several types of inquiry that may be referred to as "interdisciplinary." Interdisciplinarity is often used interchangeably with such terms as multidisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, and crossdisciplinarity.


Multidisciplinarity is the act of joining together two or more disciplines without integration. Each discipline yields discipline specific results while any integration would be left to a third party observer. An example of multidisciplinarity would be a panel presentation on the many facets of the AIDS pandemic (medicine, politics, epidemiology) in which each section is given as a stand-alone presentation.
A multidisciplinary community or project is made up of people from different disciplines and professions who are engaged in working together as equal stakeholders in addressing a common challenge. The key question is how well can the challenge be decomposed into nearly separable subparts, and then addressed via the distributed knowledge in the community or project team. The lack of shared vocabulary between people and communication overhead is an additional challenge in these communities and projects. However, if similar challenges of a particular type need to be repeatedly addressed, and each challenge can be properly decomposed, a multidisciplinary community can be exceptionally efficient and effective. A multidisciplinary person is a person with degrees from two or more academic disciplines, so one person can take the place of two or more people in a multidisciplinary community or project team. Over time, multidisciplinary work does not typically lead to an increase nor a decrease in the number of academic disciplines.


"Interdisciplinarity" in referring to an approach to organizing intellectual inquiry is an evolving field, and stable, consensus definitions are not yet established for some subordinate or closely related fields.
An interdisciplinary community or project is made up of people from multiple disciplines and professions who are engaged in creating and applying new knowledge as they work together as equal stakeholders in addressing a common challenge. The key question is what new knowledge (of an academic discipline nature), which is outside the existing disciplines, is required to address the challenge. Aspects of the challenge cannot be addressed easily with existing distributed knowledge, and new knowledge becomes a primary subgoal of addressing the common challenge. The nature of the challenge, either its scale or complexity, requires that many people have interactional expertise to improve their efficiency working across multiple disciplines as well as within the new interdisciplinary area. An interdisciplinarary person is a person with degrees from one or more academic disciplines with additional interactional expertise in one or more additional academic disciplines, and new knowledge that is claimed by more than one discipline. Over time, interdisciplinary work can lead to an increase or a decrease in the number of academic disciplines.


Transdisciplinary, while the term is frequently used, may not yet have a stable, consensus meaning. Usage suggests that a transdisciplinary approach dissolves boundaries between disciplines. Most uses of the term suggest a deliberate and intentionally scandalous or transgressive violation of disciplinary rules, for the purpose of achieving new insight, or of expanding the discipline's resources.
A less polemic view of transdiciplinarity treats it as the act of taking theories and methods which exist independently of several disciplines and applying them to organize and understand different areas or fields. This is based largely on the idea that "knowledge cannot be singularly claimed as belonging to or originating in any one discipline".


Further reading

  • Augsburg, Tanya. (2005), Becoming Interdisciplinary: An Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies (Kendall/Hunt)
  • Henry, Stuart (2005). Disciplinary hegemony meets interdisciplinary ascendancy: Can interdisciplinary/integrative studies survive, and if so how? Issues in Integrative Studies, 23, 1-37.
  • Klein, Julie Thompson (1996) Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge, Disciplinarities, and Interdisciplinarities(University Press of Virginia)
  • Klein, Julie Thompson (2006) Resources for interdisciplinary studies. Change, (Mark/April). 52-58
  • Kleinberg, Ethan (2008). Interdisciplinary studies at the crossroads Liberal Education, 94 (1). 6-11.
  • Newell, William H. (2001). A theory of interdisciplinary studies. Issues in Integrative Studies, 19, 1-25. Online text
  • Peter Weingart and Nico Stehr, eds. 2000. Practicing Interdisciplinarity(University of Toronto Press)
  • Chubin, D.E. (1976). The conceptualization of scientific specialties. The Sociological Quarterly 17: 448-476.
  • Siskin, L.S. & Little, J.W. (1995). The Subjects in Question. Teachers College Press. about the departmental organization of high schools and efforts to change that.

See also

interdisciplinary in German: Interdisziplinarität
interdisciplinary in Spanish: Interdisciplinariedad
interdisciplinary in French: Interdisciplinarité
interdisciplinary in Dutch: Interdisciplinariteit
interdisciplinary in Japanese: 学際
interdisciplinary in Portuguese: Interdisciplinaridade
interdisciplinary in Slovenian: Interdisciplinarnost
interdisciplinary in Finnish: Poikkitieteellisyys
interdisciplinary in Swedish: Tvärvetenskap
interdisciplinary in Chinese: 学科交叉
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1