Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

Status message

You are currently in UIA's online document archive. These pages are no longer maintained. To search the full archive click here.

The Encyclopedia is currently undergoing redevelopment !

1.4 Previous, parallel or related initiatives

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 settings.

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 university context.

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, 1972).

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, 1972)

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.

9. Cybernetics

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 approach.

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.