Interdisciplinary Practice

As I’ve been introducing myself to folks at NYU, I’ve noticed that I rely upon two motifs: interdisciplinary study and the importance of being a practitioner.

As I mentioned in January, “I liken interdisciplinary studies to open source code development: finding objects of analysis and theory and applying them to a new application.” In social network theory (for example, Diane in the “Betweenness example” in The Social Life of Routers) it’s not necessarily the number of people you know, but the boundaries you span that determine your value in a network. (Ronald Burt seminally demonstrated this in Structural Holes versus Network Closure as Social Capital) My interpretation of this research is that spanning the boundaries of disciplines is an extraordinarily rich and exciting position to occupy.

I consider myself a practitioner, because I like the satisfaction of making an appreciable contribution, I like learning, and I like writing about my experience: a cycle of action and reflection. I now hope to have the time to learn new disciplines and reflect, or to use a more buzz wordy turn of phrase, to “contextualize my experience.” Joseph Joubert, a French essayist who might have been a blogger had the technology existed in the 18th century, wrote, “He who has imagination without learning has wings and no feet.” But of course, becoming entrenched in theoretical learning only, is like wearing a pair of concrete boots. And to share what one has learned… again, Joubert wrote, “To teach is to learn twice.”

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