Interdisciplinarity: Thinking & Navigating

Friday 6th June 2014

The call to ‘interdisciplinarity’ has been with us for decades. By now, for many working academics the word merely tags modi operandi to which they have long since subscribed. For others, it is mainly a box that needs to be ticked, willy-nilly, to make one’s research sound up-to-date and relevant to funding bodies and other agents for the management of academic life. For others still, it portends the demise of academia as we know it, to be replaced either with a utopia of a post-disciplinary world of problem-led intellectual creativity or, alternatively, with a dystopian victory of neoliberal academic management over the life of the mind. Amidst all the talk – wide-eyed or sceptical, vested or aloof – we are all called upon to navigate our academic lives within, between, and across disciplines. Most of us have a story or two to tell about it. Some of us have even ventured to turn interdisciplinary collaborations into an object, rather than just a manner, of study.

The purpose of this half-Friday Forum is to bring together people from across UCL to discuss the very idea of ‘bringing together people’, which underwrites interdisciplinary research as an intellectual value as well as an academic practice. The idea is to instigate a conversation between people who are in different ways invested in interdisciplinary research and teaching across the Faculties of UCL (and note the structural tension in that phrase), including colleagues who have focused their own research on the ideas and practices associated with it. Opening up the notion of interdisciplinarity for intellectual interrogation, the discussion will bring into the mix a series of ‘tales’ by staff and graduate students who have reckoned with it in practice, to explore ways in which our understanding of what interdisciplinarity is, and what it could become, might be expanded.

For more information contact Dr Martin Holbraad (, Vice-Dean for Interdisciplinarity at the Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences.


13.00 (onwards) SANDWICH LUNCH

Welcome & Opening Remarks

Martin Holbraad (Anthropology, SHS Vice-Dean for Interdisciplinarity)


The problem of interdisciplinarity

Andrew Barry (Geography)



Chiara Ambrosio (STS)




Roundtable I - Tales of interdisciplinary thinking. (Chair: Martin Holbraad - Anthropology, SHS Vice-Dean for Interdisciplinarity)

“'Tis a tale told by an idiot"? The place of History
Mary Fulbrook (German & Dean of SHS)

The difference engine: Adding to the world through interdisciplinarity
Colin Stirling (Archaeology)

Messy metamodelisations: interdisciplinary diagrams
David Burrows (The Slade School of Art)

Complicating matters: some musings on aesthetics and politics
Uta Staiger (European Institute/History)

Kevin Inston (French)

15.50 COFFEE

Roundtable II – Tales of interdisciplinary navigation (Chair: Stephanie Bird – German, A&H Vice-Dean for Interdisciplinarity)

Undergraduate Tales: interdisciplinary study amidst disciplinary structures
Carl Gombrich (BASc Programme Director)

Incentivising interdisciplinary approaches – or, how a university says ‘Yes – you have permission, and we’ll even pay you, to step outside your comfort-zone’
Ian Scott (UCL Grand Challenges)

Who's afraid of engineers?
Raquel Velho (STS)

Between a rock and a hard place: Navigating disciplinary borders
Marco Carbone (Centre for Multidisciplinary & Intercultural Inquiry)

Interdisciplinary collaboration and a story about a cushion
Brian Balmer (STS)

Interdisciplinarity from the trenches (or just outside)
Kelly Robinson (Anthropology/Film Studies)

Closing Remarks & Discussion

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