michelangelo slaveThe Interdisciplinary Scholar: Pushing at Boundaries, Feeling Bound

by Monica Prendergast, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, University of Victoria

I am an interdisciplinary scholar in theatre studies and drama education with interests in aesthetic philosophy, performance studies, curriculum studies and arts-based research. My doctoral degree is in Interdisciplinary Studies and was awarded in 2006 by the University of Victoria, where I was fortunate enough to land a faculty position in 2011. Yet my position is in the Faculty of Education and is therefore held to be within an area of the social sciences. Thus I am a drama/theatre education scholar whose roots are entirely bound in the arts and humanities, although my life has branched me out into a home in the social sciences.

Education is an inherently interdisciplinary field, housing as it does scholars from language and literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, philosophy, history, psychology, physical education and the arts. Framed as a social science, however, educational research and discourse becomes fraught with expectations that it be empirical and ‘scientific’ (often for political rather than pedagogical reasons). How does this work when it comes to aspects of education that are rooted in the arts and humanities? In many cases, and in my own experience, not very well.

I long for a university structure that allows faculty members to move with more fluidity and hybridity across disciplinary boundaries. A university such as mine offers interdisciplinary doctoral degrees but not interdisciplinary faculty appointments that can support those who wish to work in more porous ways in the academy. I do work productively with colleagues in other areas, of course, in both graduate supervision and research. But I do not teach in those areas, nor can I weigh in on aspects of (say) a Fine Arts program that lie within my expertise, such as curriculum design and delivery. These boundaries can chafe over time.

My recent and current research projects and publications speak to these border-crossings of interdisciplinarity. Based on my readings in utopian philosophy (primarily by Fredric Jameson and Ernst Bloch), I became interested in analyzing drama education through those lenses. I posited that the kind of improvised roleplay called “process drama” offers students and teachers a kind of utopian space in which hierarchies can be suspended in favor of collective envisioning and exploration of better worlds. The “what-if” of classroom drama becomes the “not-yet” of Bloch’s anticipatory consciousness in his Philosophy of Hope.

            Most recently, my funded research is around developing a new curriculum for secondary level students in performance studies. Performance studies is currently only taught in postsecondary institutions. Yet I believe that the interdisciplinary foci of performance studies in understanding art, politics, economics and culture as forms of performance would be of great interest to younger students. My graduate and postgraduate research assistants and I are writing this curriculum with chapters on Performance as Play, Ritual, Healing, Education, Identity, Power and Everyday Life. I am seeking continuing funding to implement and assess this new course in multiple sites across Canada and in Australia.

Methodologically, my commitment to performance-based and poetic inquiry has proven endlessly rewarding. My closest colleagues are those who, like me, consider research and scholarship to be creative and artistic practices. We carry on our work, pushing against the boundaries, finding our way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *