Education, higher education, public sociology

Breaking down disciplinary boundaries by not building them

This may seem a strange idea, especially given how well established many of the disciplines within Social Science are, but here me out.

I am currently working through John Brewers The public value of Social Sciences. Early on, he talks about how disciplinary silos or bunkers are bad places to lead changes in post-disciplinary collaboration from. This idea got me to thinking about how to break down those silos and thinking to the current GCSE > A-level > degree pathway.

I think it would be safe to say that for most students, they don’t encounter the Social Sciences (outside of Geography) before they undertake A-levels. There are in fact GCSE’s in some, but with relatively low uptakes. What then happens is students study 3 or 4 discreet disciplinary social sciences, picking from Sociology, Psychology, Politics and Economics in most cases. Box doing it in this way immediately tells the next generation of social scientists ‘look, psychology does this while Sociology does that’. In the real world, it is far messier and as Brewer rightly suggests, much of the public use of the Social Sciences comes from their collaborative voice, not from competing lone voices.

If this need for encouraging interdisciplinary or post-disciplinary work, then maybe it needs to take a grass roots approach. Instead of making students decide at 16 if Sociology is for them, create A-Levels in Crime or Environment, in Culture or Urban Studies. By showing the multi-faceted ways parts of Society can be envisioned from different angles by different disciplines then not only would it help students to develop a more holistic view of Society and how it is studied but it may actually provide them find resonance with areas of the social sciences that otherwise remain hidden from them by traditional disciplinary boundaries.

References

Brewer, J.D (2013) The public value of the social sciences, London, Bloomsbury

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3 thoughts on “Breaking down disciplinary boundaries by not building them

  1. I think that there are very few people who enjoy the boundaries between fields, and even fewer who would admit–to themselves, much less others–as much. I can’t help but think, perhaps this throws me in that latter category, that the reasons those divisions exist is not because there is some type of entrenched elite. Perhaps there is but, in this instance, there is an argument that they are mere accidents of the sad reality that any student body, no matter how motivated, cannot be thrown into a multidiscipline field without any foundation for the various disciplines in the first place.

    But those are just some of my idle thoughts…

    1. I think you are right, they so need the foundations but I think teaching them together rather than in isolation could better help them see the connections between disciplines and there approach to different topics

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