Construction and enactment of interdisciplinarity: A grounded theory case study in Liberal Arts and Sciences education

Xin Ming*, Miles A.J. MacLeod, Jan van der Veen

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article explores how interdisciplinarity is constructed and enacted in a Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) educational environment, when self-tailored personal academic development is intertwined with collaborative group work involving various disciplinary input. A case study taking a grounded theory approach analyzed how interdisciplinarity emerged from collaborative groupwork dynamics in which students' academic identities manifest and interact. Academic identity in LAS contexts is complex: Individuals' disciplinary identities intersect with a generic program-bound identity shared by all students. Disciplinary identity was not only unique for each student, but also showed diverse configurations among the LAS population, as revealed in three disciplinary profiles: disciplinary specialists, topic experts, and identity explorers. Interdisciplinarity, accordingly, has different meanings and entails different journeys of academic growth. The interplay between and among the intersectional academic identities constitutes different groupwork dynamics and leads to different learning experiences. Comparing three patterns of groupwork experience—non-disciplinary, monodisciplinary and interdisciplinary—the article argues for two key concepts crucial for experiencing interdisciplinarity: disciplinary enablement and disciplinary transaction. To make sense of interdisciplinarity in LAS contexts, the article further looks into tensions perceived by students regarding specific groupwork as well as long-term academic development. The tensions reflect two dimensions of knowledge and knowledge work that both LAS students and LAS education in general need to reconcile, namely, specification and specialization versus generalization and integration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100716
JournalLearning, Culture and Social Interaction
Early online date3 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


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