Transmission in Motion

Seminar Blogs

“True Interdisciplinarity” – Elena Roznovan

While the buzz word ‘interdisciplinary’ is used by many university programs today, what does interdisciplinarity really mean and what does it entail? If looked at closely the divisions amongst different fields of study within universities is still very prominent. Humanities to this day orient their methodologies of teaching and classroom proceedings in a seminar style. The sciences have labs. The arts have studios. However, what if these three spaces—the seminar, the lab and the studio—were joined together into one? This is the proposition that Jon McKenzie made during his online presentation. He described a new model of teaching which he implemented at Cornell University to conduct an experimental course in which design thinking, theory, creative expression, field research and scientific methods come together to create a truly interdisciplinary space. As such, new and innovative methodologies are produced to tackle contemporary issues. Jon McKenzie aims to go beyond theory, instead of harnessing the power of critical thinking in combination with design and science to make possible tangible solutions for different issues in the world. As an example, his students presented #HerWholeTruth, a project that resulted in a clemency campaign for a female death-row convict Lisa Montgomery. Through the combination of design thinking, social justice, art and by partnering with the Law School within Cornell University, the students designed posters and built a social media presence to raise awareness about Lisa Montgomery’s situation.  This example demonstrates the potential of interdisciplinarity within university classrooms.

As the world faces increasingly more complex problems, such as global warming, food insecurity, gender inequality etc. academia is obligated with providing future generations of problem solvers with adequate knowledge, methods and tools to tackle such issues. Hence, more learning intuitions ought to embrace true interdisciplinarity. Such interdisciplinarity has to be visible in all the processes and methods of knowledge formation, not simply by invoking interdisciplinarity through ideas, but also through practice. In other words, academic methodologies can no longer only rely on theory, but must embrace doing, or performativity. “In a certain sense, performativity is the postmodern condition […] it has come to govern the entire realm of social bonds” (McKenzie 2001, 14).  As such, by implementing interdisciplinarity, academic institutions aptly participate in the socio-political dimensions of the world while endowing students with practical skills and give them opportunities to gain tangible experience. Performativity, thus, is at the core of hands-on participation and problem solving and it can be introduced through breaking the boundaries between practices and disciplines.


  • McKenzie, Jon. 2001. “Introduction.” in Perform or Else. From Discipline to Performance. New York and London: Routledge.

*Image credits: Free Photos from Pixabay.