Toward Disciplined Multidisciplinarity: English As It Stands for Me

– Nirmala Mani Adhikary

Physics, Mathematics, Statistics, Mass Communication, Journalism, English, Research Methodology, Hinduism, and Communication Theory — do they converge? If yes, for what? And, where does English stand in this course? This article deals with these issues with reference to academic practices in the field of communication studies, and also to my personal experiences of being exposed across the aforesaid disciplines.

There seems an agreement on considering communication such discipline of knowledge, or academic field of study, that incorporates insights from a number of disciplines. Communication theory has most typically drawn from the humanities and social sciences. The field has also been enriched with the communication researches carried out by non-communication scholars such as political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, social-psychologists and linguists among others. In other words, communication has been theorized from various approaches. The trend seems to be accelerating thereby drawing on even newer disciplines. For instance, there are scholars who have highlighted that the natural sciences, medicine, and engineering are full of considerations of time, space, signals, distance, contact, which are central concerns and topics of communication theory.

Thus the discipline of communication has been multidisciplinary and it continues to be so. But, neither this means that communication is a secondary perspective that can be explained only by other disciplines, nor the multidisciplinary origin of communication makes it episodic. Rather, it is claimed that communication is primary to all social processes and therefore the existence of a discipline to explain the society from the standpoint of communication is understandable. In reality, communication itself has already been established as a discipline of knowledge in its own right. Communication’s disciplinarity can be understood as ‘disciplined multidisciplinarity’ where insights from all other disciplines engrave into its mainstream disciplinary framework.

My academic endeavors also resemble to that of communication discipline. I started my higher study as a student of science thereby studying physics, mathematics, and statistics chiefly. I did M.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and M. Phil. in English. My Ph. D. research deals with Hinduism, particularly the Bhatta School of Mimamsa philosophy and communication theory. Different roots; yet, unifying applications within the domain of communication discipline.

The first question raised above (“Do they converge?”) meets an affirmative end. It has been so, as explained above, in general. And, I have experienced so, in particular. Without the study of as diverse subjects as physics, mathematics, statistics, mass communication, journalism, research methodology, and Hinduism, it would be very hard for me to understand the disciplined multidisciplinarity of communication. Before mentioning anything about the role of English in this course, let me first deal the second question.

The convergence of various disciplines in the mainstream disciplinary framework of communication makes and has been making the discipline more dynamic, more comprehensive and livelier. The claim of communication as the base of the society and the locus that holds the society together demands the discipline to be all-encompassing in both approaches and applications, which is certainly impossible without multidisciplinary insights. In other words, the implications of disciplined multidisciplinarity not only broaden the discipline of communication, but also strengthen communication’s claim as the ‘center’ (contrasted to the ‘periphery’) as compared to other disciplines. At least, the disciplined multidisciplinarity certainly contributes — more than the episodic multidisciplinarity and the unidisciplinarity — to the better understanding of communication in a broader setting of the society.

English, both as a language and a discipline, has the crucial role in the development of communication as disciplined multidisciplinary field. In fact, English is serving as the confluencing ground for the multidisciplinary enrichment of communication. Though various countries indigenously inherit the concept of communication and have been practicing it since time-immemorial; communication-as-modern-discipline-of-knowledge has originated and evolved in the West, particularly in the United States of America. It is no exaggeration to say that the modern discipline of communication evolved in English. Even, latter day endeavors of studying communication from non-Western perspectives also have to be, and have been, in English if they are to be communicated for larger audiences.

For me, the advancement in the study of communication has corresponded with my explorations in English. My quest of theorizing communication broadened with M. Phil. in English. Just as in the academic practices in the field communication studies, approaching communication as disciplined multidisciplinary subject, and also centering of this notion of communication for the study of various aspects of society, owes to English in my personal experiences too.

Bibliography:

Adhikary, N. M. (2008). Communication, media and journalism: An integrated study. Kathmandu: Prashanti Pustak Bhandar.

Adhikary, N. M. (2010). Explorations within: Theorizing Communication and Positing Media Ethics Paradigm from Hindu Perspective. A Paper Presented at the Media Research Conferencce 2010, March 25-26, Kathmandu.

Hechter, T. (2003). Center and periphery: Toward disciplined interdisciplinarity in communication study. American Communication Journal, 6(4). Retrieved from http://www.acjournal.org/holdings/vol6/iss4/articles/hechter/hechter.htm

3 comments

  • Shyam Sharma

    This is a great article, especially because it brings us, English Teachers, face to face with a multidisciplinary perspective–which we don’t face too often! But there is another side to my reading of it that I am less sure about. To be honest, I find what sounds to me like “praise” of English often uncritical. Of course, the commentary about the importance of English is factually true and quite pragmatic in perspective; but I think that we also need to, at the same time, go beyond understanding the statistical world into also challenging its no-so-positive impacts. I am myself impressed by the power of English Studies, and more recently by Rhetoric and Composition, and as Nirmal ji rightly points out here, by Communication Studies. But at the same time, I think that we should be aware of the ways in which these disciplines also come pre-packaged with challenges for us: vestiges of colonial politics, neocolonial tentacles, the power to destroy local epistemologies, the potential to make learning and life disconnected for students (thereby demotivating them). I wrote about the imperial nature of disciplines that look great on the outside on this page recently: http://shyamsharma.net/Studies/Composition/Counter-Discourses%20in%20Composition/Counter-Discourses%20in%20Composition.php
    Thanks for the thought-provoking entry. Nelta colleagues have been talking about the local-global tension of epistemologies, cultures, and pedagogies, and this article is a new piece that might challenge us into another round of discussion. Hope to hear more from other colleagues.

  • madhu

    I really appreciate the article.No doubt, communication is multidisciplinary since no discipline is possible without communication. English has become necessary for almost all the people in any discipline even if they want it or not. But as Shyam ji has said it has a smell of imperialism as well. We should think about the fact that other languages can also be equally multidisciplinary.

  • samjhana

    Every professional in any discipline has to be a good communicator. It is very important and challening in this competitive world. Glad to read about multidisciplinary approach in English communication.

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