The Ivory Tower, Siloing, and Always Already Feeling Isolated in Academia

Some green text short story for you:

>In grad school trying to delve more into a specific project
>Be interested in areas outside of your chosen field but still related
>Find negativity and few close resources to help you with your quest for interdisciplinary knowledge
>Go home and cry

This is something I have been thinking about for a little while now: a general feeling like i’m an outsider that I have experienced from time to time in my experiences with academia, and it is frustrating. It turns out, i’m not the only one coming up against this.

I recently heard the Always Already Podcast from some CUNY graduate students in political science discuss why Deluze and Guattari are so prominent in the field even though other people have written similar things. Their conclusion was that the authors with whom Deluze and Guattari share arguments or concepts are not seen as authors in the field of political science. Though other authors make similar points, they are not read because they are not in the right field. The pod cast hosts had a short discussion about the need for interdisciplinary work in academia, and I was so relieved to hear it.

I’ve had similar observations in other departments. On the one hand I am frustrated by the siloing of the departments from each other, and on the other I can understand why this happens. I know that the blame is not on the scholars. Scholars are generally not the sort of people who block themselves from sources of knowledge, but the system of accreditation and the necessity of narrowing one’s research to have a job has led to academic discourses that may overlap in many areas, such as a large portion of the humanities, that for a large part ignore sections of their related departments or other areas of research and outreach because it may seem too far outside of the field.

More universities are taking note of how interdisciplinary work has the potential to improve the work being produced, but part of the problem may also be found in “The Ivory Tower” experience that has continued for so long. Academic departments that do not seem directly related to business or community issues but are instead trapped in their ivory tower of abstract ideas, arguments, and papers are having trouble looking up and around because they have been isolated by a large amount of work for so long. Why should political science professors read the works of a psychologist when they are not interested, and have so many other more pressing needs that seem more related to the task at hand?

Why? Because that is what academics and scholars do. They use every resource that they can to analyze and present a possible truth that can improve the world around them or correct a misunderstanding about ourselves and the world we live in. This does not seem too idealistic to me. Philosophy used to include politics and the natural sciences. For thousands of years learning and researching required a holistic approach instead of living in a hole.

English departments have been working on a similar approach because their departments are already involved with an historical, social, and psychoanalytic tradition of studying the human condition.  English departments may be having a sort of identity crisis right now because some areas feel threatened by newer ones, such as gender studies and native american literature, but this ability to learn from other areas of study has produced a large amount of research in newer areas. Philosophy has been learning from cognitive science, physics, and mathematics to produce new constructs and problems.

We can all learn from each other and bring different perspectives to our shared problems and concerns in order to break out of the ivory tower syndrome and grow out of the silos that we have been stuck in. Engaging in broader complex discourses is beneficial for those seeking intellectual integrity and truth, but it also benefits communities (both academic and non-academic). Maybe if we see our work as community service and as part of a larger human project, we can continue to adapt and make the world a better place.




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