Readers who have been blissfully spared the buzzwords of academe may wonder what professors mean when we use terms such as “multidisciplinary,” “interdisciplinary,” “cross-disciplinary,” and “transdisciplinary.” Is it just a bunch of mumbo jumbo, or does it really matter at some level?
At least when it comes to understanding employment relations, it can matter a lot. Let’s take a quick look at why.
In academic-speak, a “discipline” is a conceptual framework, a defined subject-matter area that lends itself to teaching and research, such as economics, anthropology, sociology, political science, psychology, and the like. The term also is used to refer to professional settings, such as business, medicine, law, and so forth.
Thus, terms such as multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary often are used rather interchangeably to mean incorporating perspectives from these disciplines in examining a given topic, situation, or problem.
The importance of mixing it up
So, for example, in examining the effects of the recession — on its face, an economic problem — we might also look at how the stress of a lousy economy affects people psychologically. In doing so, we’re thinking in a multi/inter/cross/trans disciplinary manner.
And when, say, doctors and lawyers get together to consider public health policy, they are exchanging insights from their professional disciplines of medicine and law in ways that hopefully add up to more than the sum of the parts.
Applied to workplace bullying
I have learned a ton about the critical importance of multidisciplinary thinking. In particular, in seeking to develop legal and policy responses to workplace bullying, I have benefited mightily from insights drawn from many academic and professional disciplines.
Among these, psychology has yielded the most valuable insights. Indeed, over the years I have spent many profitable hours in conferences, seminars, and conversations with folks trained in psychology. When paired with the “in the trenches” perspectives I’ve gained from talking to countless numbers of people who have experienced workplace bullying, I have a pretty good understanding of what this behavior is all about.
Strip away the multi-syllabic terms and what are we left with? I think it’s called common sense.
Understanding work, workers, and workplaces calls upon us to draw upon the whole of our knowledge base about human behavior and the organizations we’ve created. Thankfully, it doesn’t require us to spend our waking hours reading academic treatises and journal articles, but it does mean that we should avoid becoming trapped in mental silos when examining a social problem and how to respond to it.