There’s space for interdisciplinarity – but is it happening?

Policymakers focusing on science’s utility have consigned the humanities to a supporting role, but scholars in each of the ‘two cultures’ understand that they share a love of discovery and capacity for wonder, says Martin Willis

I thought that we had, at last, left behind the “two cultures”: that phrase which, ever since C. P. Snow’s 1959 Rede Lecture, has served as shorthand for a divide between the sciences and the humanities. But everywhere I look in the broad bureaucracies of academic life I see its return, and not in any way that I find productive, even though this was certainly possible. The keynote of Snow’s lecture was, after all, to promote cooperation in an effort to improve society.

But isn’t this exactly what is happening? Aren’t the sciences and humanities being asked to collaborate as never before? Surely government initiatives, research councils’ interactions and the research excellence framework’s impact agenda all suggest a renewed dedication to cooperative and connected cross- disciplinary research? Don’t be fooled. There might have been efforts to make more robust the interactions between these fields, but the methods and philosophies that underpin such efforts are drawn only from the sciences.

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