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The dilemmas of interdisciplinary research

What does one do if one is sailing in two boats? Cling to one? Cling to both or abandon both of them? These are exactly the questions that one faces when one is carrying out inter-disciplinary or for that matter multi-disciplinary research. Not that these two terms are easy to understand and define for researchers. Much confusion prevails and there are multiple understandings that prevail. However, simply put, if you are working in a research area that combines the knowledge of more than one discipline then you are essentially conducting interdisciplinary research. A few days back, I was reading an article which delineated the ideas related with inter-disciplinary research - a kind of a monster in the research arena and hence decided to put this down. Since, I myself for the past four years have been engaged in this dilemma. 

To begin with inter-disciplinary researchers belong no where since everybody seems to question their loyalties towards a particular discipline/field of study. Nobody also willingly accepts them into their domain and thus begins a process of 'otherization' of the researcher herself. Their loyalties are constantly questioned as a result of which they are never completely accepted into one domain. They are always pushed towards the 'other', their capabilities and their intellect in one particular area of study always remains in doubt. They are pushed into one corner and are left with a feeling of solitude ... constantly made to realize that they don't belong anywhere. As an inter-disciplinary researcher (engaged in the fields of Political Science and Media Studies), I have often questioned as to where I belong? Where does my grounding lie? Do I actually belong anywhere? Am I accepted by both disciplines? Completely accepted or partially or not at all? The daily encounters and dilemmas that I face are a bit confusing. At times I am very much sure that I belong here and thus try to move away from the 'other' field. In the end, I have no clear answers and end up subjecting myself to too much of scrutiny. When I hear other researchers speak of a sense of belonging to the discipline that they are working in, I feel left out since it is difficult for me to claim with certainty that this is where I am from. I cannot easily shed my association and identification with the 'other'! So, I choose to make it work to my advantage - and work out a probable association with both the disciplines in which I am placed.

Interdisciplinarity has its own advantages but can become a big time trouble if you are working with someone who is very firmly entrenched in disciplinary boundaries. In a developing country like ours, where academic and disciplinary barriers are extremely rigid - the choice and dilemmas are even more difficult to cope up with. Obviously one cannot discount the advantages of working in two different paradigms - you obviously get to know different perspectives, you know more than one way of dealing with a research problem and you are equipped with the knowledge from two or more domains. But this is it!!! The limitations far outweigh the advantages because you end up feeling guilty. You are unable to do justice to either of the subjects you are dealing with and in the end you seem to have no definite answers. It also becomes a problem of roots...where are your roots? where are you located? No easy answers at all.

Lost in interdisciplinarity
Though interdisciplinary research is indeed exciting and fulfilling (and I can claim this from my own personal experience!), I still feel that interdisciplinary researchers should be able to identify themselves with the 'one' discipline which they feel has contributed the most to their growth in research and academics. Doing interdisciplinary research is fun, it opens up many more windows to your though process and offers you a wide range of options in future career prospects, but thats it! This should not make you forget where you actually belong and in which fold you feel the most comfortable. After all, you have to return home even though you may wander all around ... for everyone it is about a quest for their identity, a search for their roots. How do you explain this to people who for their entire lives have stuck to one discipline. I think its time for me to adjust to the demands of being disciplined into one 'discipline'.

Till then my interdisciplinary journey continues, the anguish to justify each and every input in research also continues as does the task of answering that tough question - "Where are you from?"


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