Fields of study of academic disciplines overlap, but interdisciplinary approaches only confuse…, May 2018 #1

Please ensure that you get the exact title from your ToK Teacher.

There’s much of interest for a Tok-er in this question. The question suggests that using sole disciplinary approaches to production of knowledge is less likely to lead to confusion than using ‘inter-disciplinary’ approaches.

Students should ensure that they define the key terms, but don’t spend too much time/too many words defining terms.

Note carefully that the question asks about “academic disciplines” not about AoK, consider what makes something a coherent academic discipline (as opposed to an AoK) ? This should lead you to the Knowledge Framework, and particularly they Methodology and Historical Development sections of the Knowledge Framework. There’s an interesting discussion to be had about what constitutes an “interdisciplinary approach” – it could be argued that all approaches are interdisciplinary…,

This essay, like all May 2018 essays, will require you to draw much from The Knowledge Framework – this is the fastest tip for success – use the Knowledge Framework.

The word “confusion” should lead to some interesting discussion, which could in itself become confusing. Is confusion the end of the process, or just a stage ? If it’s a stage is it necessary, sufficient or integral ? On whose part is confusion realised – the producer or the recipient(s) ?

Let’s get down to some examples :
Let’s take the Holmes & Rahe Social Readjustment Ratings scale (SRRS or Stress Scale) from the discipline of Psychology. This knowledge was produced using a questionnaire-survey, a correlation, and analysis of historical documents. These research methods belong to many disciplines (Maths, Sociology, Biology, History etc). There we have our first problem – it is very difficult to identify any single process of knowledge production which solely belongs to one academic discipline, the processes of knowledge production are shared between disciplines. For example: if we look at the Methodology sections of the Knowledge Framework for AoK Natural Sciences and AoK Human Sciences we see very similar Methods, ie modelling, experimentation, surveys, measurement, hypothesis testing etc. As such, students who choose this question will need to ensure that they choose disciplines with contrasting approaches to the production of knowledge.However, we need to carefully bear in mind that the question asks about disciplines not  AoK.


As I stand back and look at this question I see it as questing the coherence of integration of the Concepts and Scope of the Knowledge Framework with the Methodology of the Knowledge Framework. The question sort of says : why do concepts overlap but methods don’t overlap ?

Further, as I consider the question at a deeper level I start to see it as one about evolution of knowledge into distinct disciplines. If we look at the discipline of  contemporary Physics, its’ antecedents through astronomy and geometry was rooted in something called Applied Philosophy. This common root between Philosophy and Physics means that both disciplines share some common concepts, but their methodologies vary (to a degree). However, it could also be argued that there is inherent commonality in methodology (for example both use experiments), and it is only in the lens of application of the common concepts that we find a degree of confusion.

As we develop this line of thinking it becomes ever more evident that the question is about the apparent paradox that the object of study (“the fields of study”)  is often common whilst the methods of study may be distinct. In this we find that the purpose / intention of disciplines needs to be considered (maybe return to The Scope of the KF). There is obvious latitutde here for a discussion about personal and shared knowledge around the word “confusion”. However, personally I think that this is a sideshow. The main show in this question is about the relationship between Concepts, Intentions, Knowledge Production and Outcomes.

Enjoy !



9 thoughts on “Fields of study of academic disciplines overlap, but interdisciplinary approaches only confuse…, May 2018 #1

    1. If you mean this question in a literal sense then I urge you to talk to your ToK teacher immediately. If you are enquiring as to the semantic, or aesthetic, significance of the production of knowledge I think that it’s a very good question, and fundamentally the question which underlies every ToK Essay. I am tempted to start discussing trees falling in empty forests…,

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