Overcoming disciplinary divides in higher education: the case of agricultural economics
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© 2019, The Author(s). As global problems have become ever more complex, the production and organization of knowledge in society is increasingly based on the sharing, integration and collaboration of diverse experiences. For instance, global ‘grand challenges’, such as world hunger, poverty, climate change, and sustainability often require an interdisciplinary (ID) approach, in which integrating the insights of different disciplines provides a more comprehensive solution than can be offered by any given discipline. Universities or higher educational institutions face increasing pressures to engage in such interdisciplinary collaboration. This interdisciplinarity, however, raises particular organizational challenges to departments in higher educational institutions. In particular, while departments have been traditionally organized around a disciplinary core, interdisciplinarity has placed increasing pressures on departments, such as agricultural economics, to integrate insights from disciplines that do not advance a department’s disciplinary core. Few ID researchers have addressed the issue of how this internal conflict can be resolved in a departmental setting. Resolving this internal conflict is important to developing a greater interdisciplinarity among the disciplines of departmental units where a greater variety of disciplinary insights can be drawn upon to solve complex social problems. Here, we call for a unique organizational structure that can resolve this internal conflict. In using agricultural economics departments as a case study, we appeal to a concept of a “gatekeeper” whose role is to institute “loosely coupled” connections that can reconcile a department’s internal conflicts. This “gatekeeper” can advance the “normal science” of a department’s core and peripheral disciplines, while at the same time support a ‘common ground’ that appeals to these disciplines’ common interests. A key conclusion is that “gatekeepers” can sustain the integration of disciplinary insights necessary for the advancement of interdisciplinarity in higher educational institutions.
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