INTERDISCIPLINARITY & CULTURAL STUDIES

I should like to go to the 1980s. Let us look at Henry Giroux’s Teachers as Intellectuals (1988), which, I argue, can be used as a handbook for critical pedagogy. In this book Giroux calls for an authentic interdisciplinary approach to teaching. As Michel Foucault identified long ago disciplines were established for social control and organization of a particular knowledge to sustain dominance by the power structure. The very idea of discipline started at the end of the classical age and is in the DNA of the academy. As Giroux points out,

“What is characteristic of disciplinary technologies is their capacity simultaneously to normalize and hierarchize, to homogenize and differentiate. This paradox is explained by the control which discipline asserts over difference. Because norms are carefully established and maintained, deviation can be measured on a scale. The goal of the professional in a discipline is to move up this scale by differing only in the appropriate ways.”      

Giroux teaches the teachers that a “discipline” limits discourse. Needless to say, to go against the normative prescriptions of disciplinary pedagogy is to risk punishment and marginalization. But if we are to follow Socrates example, an educator has a moral obligation to take these risks, as Giroux has taken throughout his academic career, and as all authentic critical educators take in the classroom, in the halls of the academy, and in their books and articles. To do this, one has to practice interdisciplinarity.

There is one caveat here, and that is the danger of interdisciplinary movements working within the confines of the academy and falling back on the logic of reductive/disjunctive disciplinary work and generating new disciplines out of their attempts. We have seen this happen with some cultural studies programs in the US academy. Cultural studies, receiving its spirit from figures like Raymound Williams and Stuart Hall and the kind of pedagogy they produced in Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies, initially allowed heretic professors to challenge the academy’s hierarchy by infusing anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, literary theory, linguistics, art history, political science, and intertextual media studies to look at cultural phenomena and offer new theories about culture. While we have had some exciting and path breaking scholarship and teaching done under the guise of cultural studies, increasingly, we are seeing a hierarchal model applied to these programs at the universities. This is in part due to the nature of institutional education. Giroux reminds us to foster a pedagogy that counters the disciplinary juggernaut of the academy and to politicize cultural studies. To this end he urges educators to practice toward what he calls, in spirit of Freire, “conception of human praxis.”

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