Working Paper 2013-02

Title: Is Interdisciplinary Research a Mashup?

Authors: Gunilla Öberg, Louise Fortmann and Tim Gray

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Abstract:

In a “mashup”, a DJ plays songs over each other creating combinations that constitute a new piece of music. At first blush this is an appealing metaphor for interdisciplinarity. The major strength of the metaphor is that it brings to fore the image of the new as created out of the already existing. The new music emerges from existing music, just like the creation of interdisciplinary research emerges from the disciplines. The term “mashup” seems to be most widely used to indicate a transformative use. When a DJ fades one song out and fades the next song in, no one would say that’s a mashup – it’s just two songs next to each other.  It is only when the two songs interact in some way that we start getting into mashup territory. The question of transformation suggests the metaphor of mashup works well in helping us to understand interdisciplinarity because the key factor is the transformative recontextualization: to say that something is a mashup is to say that it involves some creative undertaking which brings two or more familiar or pre-existing things together in a way that is surprising or not usually anticipated, and makes a point about the union of the two exceeding the sum of its parts.

This paper is inspired by the discussions during the 6th International Conference on Environmental Futures (ICEF 6) held in Newcastle upon Tyne in July 2011. When relevant, we quote speakers at the conference. The paper proceeds in four parts.  In the first we explore the transformative capacity of interdisciplinary practice. In the second, we demonstrate that there is no capital I interdisciplinarity, but rather multiple interdisciplinarities. In the third, we investigate specific cases of interdisciplinary practice reported at ICEF 6 and how they result in transformation and the creation of interdisciplinarities.  In the fourth, we explore institutional changes in various parts of the academy that would be necessary if interdisciplinarity is to flourish.


 

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