Johan Sundeen is guest bloging today. He writes about the Humboldt lectures University of Borås has arranged. These lectures have resulted in three volymes, the third one was released earlier this week.You can find the report in Swedish: Vetenskap på tvären: akademiska värden, friheter och gränser.
Since 2010 The University of Borås has hosted what we call Humboldt lectures, which have aimed to provide a comprehensive analysis of issues of principal importance for research and higher education. Three seminar series have been arranged so far: one with the idea of a university as its theme, one on liberal education (or in German “Bildung”) and a third concerning academic disciplines and interdisciplinarity.
A common denominator for these three themes has been the concept academic identity. The ideas of a university and “Bildung” – despite decades of recession for the latter concept – are central parts of the framework of Swedish universities. And the disciplinary belonging is a foundation of most researchers and teachers self-images, although surveys show that many people in academia today also speak about their scientific work in terms of interdisciplinarity.
The question “which is your subject?” still seems to be mandatory whenever two previously unfamiliar individuals from academia come together in a social context. However, just like when it comes to citizenship, today a non-negligible group of people in academia have double or in some cases even multiple scientific identity documents; they have taken their PhD-degree in one discipline, teach in one another, and are included as researchers in interdisciplinary projects.
The Humboldt seminars have been documented in three books. Earlier this week I, together with my two co-editors – Martin G. Erikson and Jenny Johannisson, presented the third volume, titled Vetenskap på tvären: akademiska värden, friheter och gränser (in English: Science crosswise: Academic values , freedoms and boarders) at a release party here at the university. The book consists of ten essays with bearing on scientific identity; in history, today and in a near future; all of them with the main focus on the tension, but also the reciprocity, between belonging to a scientific discipline and being a researcher in a time characterized more and more by interdisciplinarity.
The essays in Vetenskap på tvären have been divided into three sections. In the first Göran Bexell, Henrik Berggren, Ulf Hall and Thomas Kaiserfeld gives general academic and science historical input to the discussion of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. In the second part of the book Ingmar Björkman and Karin Röding are dealing with this complex of problems from a management and an university strategic point of view. The last section consists of four essays written by in turn Lars Sandman, Barbara Czarniawska, Lisbeth Svengren Holm and Jan Nolin. These four texts discuss changes and trends in the relationship between scientific disciplines and interdisciplinary approaches.
As a whole, our book invites the reader on a trip from medieval European universities, i.e. in a time when the nineteenth and twentieth centuries classification of science in disciplines lay hidden in the future, via the present to a tomorrow where the academic reality increasingly have to deal with digital search- and publishing tools and its consequences in terms of challenges for the discipline-bound organization of knowledge.
In an upcoming series of Humboldt seminars we will approach another aspect of scientific identity – the theme of academic responsibility.
Johan Sundeen, PhD in history of ideas, lecturer in library and information science.