Imagination and Actionability: Refections on the Future of Interdisciplinarity

Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies 2 (37):110-129 (2019)
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When introduced around 1925, interdisciplinarity, grounded in the notion of the unity of knowledge, was meant to reconnect the fragmented and specialized disciplines of academia. However, interdisciplinary research became more and more challenging as the plurality and heterogeneity of disciplinary perspectives and insights increased. Insisting on this divergence and diversity, Julie Thompson Klein has nonetheless contributed in important ways to convergence in interdisciplinarity with her work on the process of integration as interdisciplinarity's defining feature. Of course, she is aware that the increasing inclusion of extra-academic stakeholders in transdisciplinary research constitutes a fundamental challenge to integrative interdisciplinarity. This challenge implies that next to academic contributions, experiential knowledge, interests, and norms must be recognized as valuable to the process, and stakeholder expectations of applicable results must be met. Exploring the future by extending this crucial development further, this article focuses on the actionability of knowledge as an additional criterion for effective interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity, as it is in Action Research. With action options for stakeholders being an important goal for such research, it is argued that joint deliberation about these options must be part of the process, aiming for reflective equilibrium. At the same time, an important role for imagination is defended, enabling adequate consideration of action options with their ramifications and implications. The future of interdisciplinarity, it is concluded, will entail an important role for the actionability criterion and for the related role of imagination of potential outcomes, much greater roles than these now have.

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Machiel Keestra
University of Amsterdam


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