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Discourse, Governance and Subjectivity: “Interdisciplinarity” and Knowledge-making in Engineering and in Medicine

Abstract: Governments across the world rationalize interdisciplinarity as an effective strategy for answering complex problems of social importance, drawing on large investments of resources to technical and biomedical sectors. I have identified this rationale as part of specific discursive relations and subsequently troubled its dominance through an exploration of how it has been authorized, and how faculty and administrators negotiate subjectification in engineering and medicine where this discourse dominates. Neo-liberal approaches to knowledge-production are deconstructed and analyzed. An archive was assembled of key texts pertaining to interdisciplinarity including documents produced by the OECD, the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments, the University of Toronto (UofT), academics and the popular press. A Foucauldian discourse analysis of these texts provided a specific historical context for interviews conducted with 20 faculty and administrators identified as interdisciplinary knowledge-makers. Subsequently, a situated analysis of how discourse is embodied and experienced was developed and applied to the whole archive. Four inter-related concepts were identified as making-up the popular discourse of interdisciplinarity: diversify-collaborate-innovate-integrate. According to this narrative, knowledge-makers are expected to diversify through collaboration in order to innovate and produce knowledge that is useful and marketable. From the discovery of insulin to the establishment of the MaRS discovery district, knowledge-making examples from UofT are analyzed to identify the social relations that make the idea possible that researchers should address problems of ‘relevance’. I argue that interdisciplined subjects are ‘facilitated’ to fulfill this popular narrative by management approaches that capitalize on intrinsic notions of ‘making-a-difference’. Concurrently, different narratives of interdisciplinarity are embodied and promoted as individuals negotiate ontological and epistemological issues in their daily practice. This research contributes to the refinement of Foucauldian discourse analysis, and informs scholarship on the effects of neoliberal approaches to knowledge-making and the professionalization projects of engineering and medicine.

Author: Maria Athina Martimianakis

Source: University of Toronto - TSpace

Size: 1.36 MB
Last Updated: July 31, 2015