Association for Interdisciplinary Studies Conference 2019

Boundary work as a more apt descriptor of interdisciplinarity

Introducing Professor Julie Thompson Klein

27 March 2019

To inspire you for the upcoming AIS Conference theme ‘Interdisciplinarity in global contexts’ we introduce you to Prof. Julie Thompson Klein, a longtime member and contributor of the AIS community. Klein is Professor of Humanities Emerita in the Department of English at Wayne State University (Detroit, USA) and International Research Affiliate of Transdisciplinarity Lab at ETH-Zurich (Switzerland).

For how long have you been part of the AIS community?

,,I attended the conference for the first time in 1983 at Ramapo College in New Jersey (USA). It was an auspicious moment, since I was writing my first book on interdisciplinarity at the time. AIS provided a professional home I was missing. Subsequently I became a president of the Association and have participated in many annual conferences, became involved in multiple volumes of its house journal Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies, and have continued to contribute to the AIS newsletter Integrative Pathways.”


Why is it important that the AIS is reaching out to Europe (and other parts of the world)?

,,The AIS was historically based in the US and focused primarily on education as well as individual students. The 2019 conference is an important benchmark of its expansion to be more inclusive of international and collaborative work. Initially my own scholarly efforts were US-based, including work in other organizations advancing particular interdisciplinary fields such as American Studies and Women’s Studies, to name but a few. It expanded, though, enriched by interactions involving colleagues throughout Europe as well as Latin America and Australia. The Network for Transdisciplinary Research, known as td-net, has been a key catalyst and home for intersecting groups including the International Network for the Science of Team Science (INSciTS) and Integration and Implementation Sciences (I2S). The Amsterdam conference is another exciting opportunity to interact with educators and researchers from different contexts, expanding AIS’s definitional frameworks and community based on comparative understanding of related opportunities and challenges. This process also underscores the heterogeneity of the core concept of “interdisciplinarity” at a time when it is a label for a more expansive array of boundary crossing involving disciplines, interdisciplinary fields, occupational professions, and sectors of society including government, industry, and stakeholder communities. “Boundary work,” I will propose, is a more apt descriptor of what is occurring than “interdisciplinarity.”


What will be your contribution to the conference?

,,At present my primary role is participating on an invited plenary panel on “Thinking and acting globally in ID research: an impossibility?,” joining Girma Kilboro Mensuro and Roderick Lawrence. We are charged with responding to questions aimed at exploring the relationship of the local and the global from our perspectives. This panel, and the theme of the conference overall, are major steps forward in advancing comparative thinking about crossdisciplinary education and research across countries and continents. Comparison will underscore the centrality of geographical context and historical contingency, checking generalizations about what constitutes interdisciplinarity “per se” and opening more avenues for collaboration. In addition I look forward to advancing understanding of the core term “interdisciplinarity” beyond its original connotations.”


What are you hoping to take home with you after the conference?

,,In addition to learning about what is happening in other countries I look forward to making new acquaintances, not only to learn about their work but also explore more possibilities for networking. This conference is the most exciting one to date for me personally, because so much of my work is informed by international perspectives. It also presents a profound opportunity to test all of our assumptions about the nature of interdisciplinarity in the forge of comparative analysis.”


Published by  Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies