NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Interdisciplinarity: resetting collaboration beyond the politics of recovery

Welcome to the 30th edition of NiTRO in which Professor Cat Hope co-edits a discussion on interdisciplinarity, timely in the context of a new normal brought about by a rethink of our practices and traditions in a post-COVID world.

By Professor Clive Barstow

Welcome to the 30th edition of NiTRO in which Professor Cat Hope co-edits a discussion on interdisciplinarity, timely in the context of a new normal brought about by a rethink of our practices and traditions in a post-COVID world.

The inevitable resetting of our institutional priorities, our traditional approaches to working in isolation and with each other, our greater value to society and our modus operandi as artists, designers and performers are being rethought, testing once more our claims that the arts are truly reflexive and adaptive. Now more than ever we will be looking to connect what we do to other disciplines, other professions and other contexts as a way of redefining who we are in a world that is being shaken to its core.

From an educational perspective, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that tells us that future work opportunities for our graduates will depend on interdisciplinary skills, and that the arts and sciences will play a major role in equipping our graduates to be work ready by offering multiple approaches to problem solving. So now more than ever we need to approach this from a position of respect. We need to appreciate the depth of knowledge we have created in our Universities across all disciplinary domains and to use what we have to forge new ways of thinking about humanity particularly in an increasingly technological world. As Mieke Bal suggests:

Like scientists, who often encounter complex situations that require interdisciplinary analysis, humanists also confront situations of great complexity. Frequently, even their very objects are, by definition, already complex in this sense[1]

Complexity is often overlooked when we search for quick and easy solutions to catastrophic situations such as wars and pandemics, which is why the particular problem of how we fuse knowledge to assist recovery in a meaningful way ultimately sits with us to solve. The arts have always involved complexity of thought, a praxis that is defined by its search for deeper meaning through which we can help to recover from disasters by offering hope, and a humanitarian vision of a future that is better than our present[2].

More often than not, we also share an intersubjective language[3] across the arts and sciences so that we can easily understand each other even when our methods, practices and outcomes have shaped their own paths. In this respect we have a wonderful opportunity in this time and place to experiment with interdisciplinarity and collaboration as a way of reconnecting the arts and sciences for the good of humanity. The moment is now.

Politically however, it is a moment in time where the proposed changes in higher education funding legislation is exposing a train of thought that will serve to polarise the arts and sciences in the guise of a short-term recovery strategy that will in theory at least produce new employment opportunities for STEM graduates, and one where interdisciplinarity is being financially incentivised for arts & humanities students but not for the sciences. The DDCA has submitted a response to the proposed legislation on behalf of the arts HE sector pointing out the deficiencies in this model, and why a more equitable and fair approach to funding would have more impact in increasing interdisciplinary teaching and research in our institutions for both increased employment opportunities and for the greater goal of improving the quality of life for everyone.

In a truly inclusive education system, governments should not be advantaging selective students by disadvantaging others. It is a form of social engineering that will have long term negative effects on what and how we learn and perhaps more importantly, who can access it. Universities need to continue to promote interdisciplinary teaching and research that is underpinned by an equitable funding model so that students make choices about their education not because of cost, but based on their abilities, the needs of the future workforce and innovation opportunities. Under a funding system that does not segregate, we would see a positive knock-on effect for research that would help solve the problems that humanity constantly faces, a responsibility that is not the sole domain of STEM.

Interdisciplinarity in this edition searches for collaborative practices well beyond the arts and sciences and beyond the politics of recovery. We look at public arts projects that highlight the intersections of function and design, projects that investigate research methodologies that underpin disciplinary collaborations, and ethical leadership through creative writing among many others. There is no better time to investigate the complexities of interdisciplinarity as artists and educators, so I hope you enjoy this important and timely edition of NiTRO.


[1] Bal, Mieke. 2013. Mektoub: When Art Meets History, Philosophy, and Linguistics. Case Studies in Interdisciplinary Research. Sage USA, p4. Print ISBN: 9781412982481 Online ISBN: 9781483349541 DOI:

[2] An example of a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving artists, engineers, scientists, architects, local craftspeople and musicians in response to disaster is the Ark Nova project. The project was a symbolic and empathetic response to the devastation following the Tsunami in Japan in 2011.

[3] Intersubjective language as described by Karl Popper (2002) meaning that terms and concepts, theories and interpretations would have the same meaning for all researchers. It was his alternative to objectivity, which he deemed impossible.

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