Significance: Previous, parallel or related initiatives
Integrative Knowledge Project |
The following initiatives have been noted since the first edition of
the Encyclopedia in 1976 endeavoured to profile integrative concepts.
1. Interdisciplinary team research
A volume has been produced on the methods and problems of interdisciplinary
team research as the outcome of five conferences sponsored by the USA National
Institutes of Health and the National Training Laboratories (M B Luszki,
1958). While the focus was on mental health research, the material which
includes excerpts from the conferences usefully serves as an introduction
to the topic of interdisciplinary research in the social sciences (Part
I, general observations and case study; II, characteristics of the disciplines
in the research setting and crucial issues likely to arise when persons
with different disciplinary background attempt to work together; III, planning
and carrying out an interdisciplinary project; IV, administrative aspects
of interdisciplinary research team operation; V, suggestions for training).
2. Interdisciplinary research
A study has been prepared for the Subcommittee on Science, Research,
and Development of the Committee on Science and Astronautics of the US
House of Representatives by the Science Policy Research Division of the
Legislative Reference Service of the US Library of Congress (Interdisciplinary
Research; an exploration of public issues, 1970). This defines the
scope of interdisciplinary research and the related research process, and
considers questions of dissemination, funding, training, and general problems
of such research. It includes a summary of government supported interdisciplinary
research in the USA. The study notes that there has been a considerable
range of defence-related interdisciplinary research in the social sciences.
Many of the documents describing these activities and their products are
classified or proprietary. It notes that should these documents become
available they would serve as useful sources for an assessment of the merits
of interdisciplinary research in a variety of subject areas and organizational
3. Interdisciplinary teaching and research in universities
A report has been produced by the OECD Center for Educational Research
and Innovation based on the results of a seminar on interdisciplinarity
in universities, focusing on teaching and research (1972). This includes
the results of a questionnaire to universities, various analyses of the
concept of interdisciplinarity, and the problems and solutions within a
4. General systems
Since 1956, the Society for General Systems Research has produced a
yearbook, General Systems, which collects together significant papers,
often originally published in journals of a wide variety of disciplines.
This is a very valuable source for the location of concepts and their definitions.
(A former director of the Society, Richard Ericson, has himself prepared
two tentative versions of a "Selected glossary of terms with particular
reference to concepts associated with cybernetic management and information
technology"). Oran Young has carried out a survey of the use of general
systems concepts (General Systems, 1964, p.61-80, 239-253). In 1979
a further survey of the movement was carried out for the Society (Cavallo,
1979). The many books on general systems naturally also offer definitions
of concepts. It is appropriate to ask why general systems has not been
able to respond as effectively as might have been hoped to the challenges
of the times. Attempts have been made to render general systems relevant
to the issues raised by the global problematique (Ervin Laszlo, 1974 and
R F Ericson 1979), but there has been little follow-up.
5. Unified science
The main source for this approach is the Encyclopedia of Unified
Science (R W Carnap and C W Morris, 1938).
6. Unity of science
A series of international conferences has been held on unified science
or the unity of science (New York, 1972; Tokyo, 1973; London, 1974) under
the sponsorship of the International Cultural Foundation. One volume arising
out of the first conference contains a glossary adapted from a Glossary
Proposal for General Systems Theory formulated for the Task Force on General
Systems Education of the Society for General Systems Research (Edward Haskell,
7. Integrative education
Largely through the journal Main Currents in Modern Thought of
the Center for Integrative Education (previously the Foundation for Integrative
Education), now discontinued, a considerable amount of material is available
on useful concepts and theories for integrating modern knowledge. Individuals
associated with the Center elaborated such ideas in book form (Henry Margenau,
8. Integrated education
A considerable movement has developed in connection with the integration
of curriculum elements to present a unified perspective on any topic and
the integration of teaching methods to improve understanding of a topic.
Integrated science teaching is particularly developed.
Under the direction of Heinz von Foerster an early course on the cybernetics
of cybernetics had as its principal aim to arrive at a format for a publication
that when produced should serve as a nucleus for a comprehensive presentation
of the full range of methods and concepts in cybernetics as they are currently
available with regard to cognitive, social and cultural processes. The
book is entitled Cybernetics of Cybernetics or the control of control
and the communication of communication (1974). It gives explanatory
descriptions of 238 terms and includes the texts of a number of key papers.
10. General studies
The journal Studium Generale (Heidelberg) has for many years
carried important interdisciplinary material. A book has been produced
which summarizes the meaning of general studies in Germany (W Regg, 1954).
11. Unity of knowledge
As a philosophical concern this is reflected in a number of papers,
see: Alois Dempf, Die Einheit der Wissenschaft (1955); Congresso
Nazionale di Filosofia, L'Unificazione del Sapere (1966). It is
also of concern to psychology, see: Marjorie Grene, Toward a Unity of
Knowledge (1969); S Koch, Psychology and emerging conceptions of
knowledge as unitary (1964).
12. Synthesis of the human sciences:
The World Institute Council, largely through its president, Julius Stulman,
has contributed since 1949 to a number of activities associated with integrative
education, such as the journal Main Currents in Modern Thought,
and more recently the Institute's own journal Fields within Fields within
Fields. The World Institute, proposed in 1949, is envisaged as a scientific
institute devoted to research and action for the integrated human and economic
development of the world.
13. General systems education
Early efforts were made through the Task Force on General Systems Education
of the Society for General Systems Research, largely through its chairman
Jere W Clark at the Center for Interdisciplinary Creativity, to formulate
a curriculum for general systems education and to design delivery systems
for the general systems perspective.
14. Interdisciplinary synthesis
A plan to institutionalize interdisciplinary research and teaching was
formulated by Leo Apostel at the University of Ghent in 1963 (Leo Apostel,
A Center for Interdisciplinary Synthesis (1972).
15. Integrative studies
The Center for Integrative Studies is concerned with long-range social
and cultural implications of scientific and technological developments.
The integrative function is directed towards the analysis and interpretation
of information from a great variety of sources, and to assemble and integrate
the contributions of many disciplines for the identification and evaluation
of the critical interactions of technology and society.
16. Interdisciplinary cooperation
The programme of UNESCO provides for projects which enlist the aid of
philosophy to stimulate sustained thought on the nature, achievements,
difficulties and present and potential role of interdisciplinary research,
so as to promote its evaluation and use. A review of the status of interdisciplinary
research by Jean Piaget has been published (1970). A symposium has been
held under UNESCO auspices on science and synthesis (1971).
17. UNESCO Computerized Documentation Service
UNESCO is the intergovernmental agency with a specific mandate to respond
to the challenge of interdisciplinarity. In 1975, of the 61 items concerning
interdisciplinary research in Unesco documents and publications: 29 stressed
the need or importance of, or recommend, such research: 24 were in some
way concerned with its application to various areas, but mainly the environment;
and only 6 were concerned with interdisciplinary research itself.
18. Interdisciplinary relations
An inventory and bibliography of interdisciplinary relations in the
social sciences is published regularly by the International Social Council
(Interdisciplinary relations. Social Science Information, number
2 of each volume).
19. Comparative studies
The Comparative Interdisciplinary Studies Section of the International
Studies Association encourages the advancement of cross-cultural, interdisciplinary
comparative studies of national, international, and sub-national social
systems and processes principally by the exchange of documents through
correspondence networks focused on a common theme. (A number of other problem
areas have given rise to interdisciplinary groups, eg aged, drug
abuse, youth, etc).
20. Systems theory in management
The conceptual frameworks of system theory and the quantitative techniques
of management science provide the bases for the latest advances in the
evolution of management theory and practice. A considerable amount of literature
is available on such aspects of organization and management (See: J W Greenwood
Jr et al.)
21. Cybernetics and systems analysis
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (whose members
are the principal scientific academies in each country) undertakes studies
into both methodological and applied research in the related fields of
systems analysis, cybernetics, operations research, and management techniques.
The World Cybernetics and Systems Organization acts as a clearing house
for all societies concerned with cybernetics, general systems, operational
research and computer science.
22. Comprehensive thinking
As a contribution in 1965 to the World Design science Decade (1965-1975),
John McHale selected and edited some of the writings of R Buckminster Fuller
into a document entitled Comprehensive Thinking, concerned with
the application of whole systems thinking to local and particular aspects
of the system in the planning of environment for man.
23. Specialists and Generalists
The Subcommittee on National Security and International Operations of
the Committee on Government Operations of the United States Senate compiled
a selection of readings entitled Specialists and Generalists to
encourage reflection on these respective roles in government.
24. Interdisciplinary vocabulary
A report prepared for UNESCO in 1961 by Georges Gusdorf (Projet de
recherche interdisciplinaire dans les sciences humaines) suggested
that one of the principal tasks was to identify the key concepts of importance
to a variety of sciences (1967). This would then constitute a basis for
defining the meaning and scope of interdisciplinary communication and could
open the way to an epistemology of convergence in contrast to the current
epistemology of dissociation. The report listed 176 possible concepts as
a basis for further discussion.
25. Policy sciences
This emerging discipline is in effect an interdisciplinary approach
to the problems of governance. An Encyclopedia of Policy Studies
(1983) was produced under the editorship of Stuart S Nagel.
26. Complexity and chaos studies
Some of the most interesting recent developments have focused on what
might be considered the obverse of interdisciplinarity, namely the study
of complexity and chaos.
27. Theory and practice of interdisciplinarity
A very recent study reviewing the history, theory and practice of interdisciplinarity
has been produced by Julie Klein (1990).
It is interesting to note that none of the encyclopedias consulted,
with one remarkable exception (in the French Encyclopaedia Universalis),
included entries on interdisciplinarity. Even the re-organized 15th edition
of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which specifically emphasizes the
circle of learning and knowledge about knowledge, adopts a very conventional
Given the problem of locating interdisciplinary material through existing
information systems, it is highly probable that many comparable (or even
more significant) initiatives should be mentioned in the same context as
those above. Perhaps even more regrettable, many promising initiatives
and proposals in the more distant past may be almost impossible to trace,
or may bear a somewhat diffuse relationship to the current approach to
interdisciplinary or integrative questions.
The synthesis of knowledge (and its application to world problems) was,
for example, a basic inspiration behind the complex of activities of the
following interlinked organizations in the period just after the turn of
the century: the International Bibliographical Institute (later to become
the International Federation for Documentation), the Union of International
Associations, and the International Peace Institute. Synthesis of knowledge
was to be facilitated by systematic classification of documents pioneered
by the elaboration of the Universal Decimal Classification system and its
application to some 11 million file cards. The tracing and evaluation of
such initiatives and their interactions must await some history of approaches
to synthesis and integration of knowledge.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential