Opening remarks at the FINTERDIS 1-year Anniversary Seminar at the University of Helsinki on October 4, 2019 by Kirsi Cheas, President of FINTERDIS:
I would like to open this Anniversary lecture by expressing profound thanks to all of you. First to Professor David Inglis for dedicating time and effort to give our Anniversary lecture. I would also like to thank all of you for coming to our event. Warm thanks to all the Finterdis board members who have worked hard to convert Finterdis into an initiative that can make a change and enable better possibilities for interdisciplinary research.
Finterdis was founded on October 4, 2018 – that is, exactly one year ago. Before founding it, I had thought I’m struggling all alone. As a doctoral student, I didn’t fit in any department. My research interests were too broad, crazy, and ambitious, as I wanted to create a new quantitative method at the intersection between area and cultural studies and media studies. This unique combo of academic approaches made most professors shake their heads and roll their eyes at me. “Why won’t you just do something normal?” Everyone was talking about interdisciplinarity, but at least for a junior scholar like myself, it seemed practically impossible to explore the new connections I was passionately interested in.
In fall 2017, I discovered the U.S.-based Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, known by the abbreviation AIS, and attended their conference in Baltimore. Suddenly, I was surrounded by dozens of people who had been through the same as me. For the first time during my whole academic career, I felt at home. These people were open to each other’s ideas, genuinely curious about different phenomena, and respectful of each other’s work, even if the other person’s research focus differed from their own. Back then, I was still a doctoral student, but I was taken seriously, by distinguished professors, scholars, and students across fields.
AIS made me realize this kind of a community can exist in Finland as well. I was right. I soon encountered amazing, creative, open-minded people, and together, we founded a working group. The working group then organized a meeting where Finterdis – the Finnish Interdisciplinary Society, was officially founded. When I looked at all the dozens of people who came to that meeting, I felt relieved, a strong sense of belonging, and sad at the same time. Relieved, because I realized I was certainly not alone with my experience. There are so many of us who have bumped into boundaries separating departments, faculties, programs, you name it. But I also felt sad to realize how many people had been lacking support for their interdisciplinary efforts. As we founded Finterdis, we made it our principal aim to work together and support each other, in joint effort to promote and create more open atmospheres in Finnish academia and beyond.
Finterdis emphasizes especially early-career researchers’ possibilities to conduct interdisciplinary research. This is because we most often fall through the net, depending on the disciplinary orientations of our supervisors, doctoral programs, foundations and other funding agencies, and project leaders. As we will explore in our workshop later today, the formation of an interdisciplinary identity can be particularly difficult, and not even nearly enough attention has been devoted to this dilemma. In Finterdis, we want to offer scholars a place where they can freely develop their identity, rather than having to choose one side or the other. The creatures depicted on our website, crossing a bridge, symbolize the hybrid identity of interdisciplinary scholars: it is impossible to define our character or interests through traditional concepts. Rather, each of us creates our own, unique interdisciplinary identity, shaped by the approaches and fields of research we discover and become passionate about during our journey. One special characteristic I have observed in Finterdis (and also AIS) members: people tend to be humble. Recognizing the limits of our own knowledge, we are constantly on the move, exploring new collaborations and fields in different directions. We are open towards one another. We embrace the values of listening, learning, and willingness to expose ourselves to the unexpected.
Challenges remain. Many bridges still cannot be crossed, and many of us get stuck in the middle ground, with both sides claiming we are not knowledgeable enough in their area of expertise to enter the field, let alone to land in a position. Things can be particularly tough for us early-career researchers, trying to land that frist position. Finterdis has not been able to get funding, given that in all funding applications, we are expected to choose our field of specialization. One. Field. Same applications call for interdisciplinarity and innovative thought. The everyday life of an interdisciplinary scholar is full of frustrating moments.
But Finterdis has survived a year. This is due to the amazing support from all of you, for which we are deeply grateful. Hopefully, we will survive and grow during the years to come, and manage to make the lives of curious, interdisciplinary scholars more rewarding and less frustrating.
In our last General Meeting in May 2019, an important question was raised: what IS interdisciplinarity, and what is it not? There are many stereotypes associated with both concepts, disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. Many disciplinary scholars claim that interdisciplinary approaches are superficial -that interdisciplinary scholars don’t know enough about anything. Interdisciplinary scholars often argue that disciplinary approaches are narrow and disciplinary scholars close-minded.
Such accusations will not improve the dialogue. It will just strengthen the boundary between us and them – a boundary we are trying to cross and to overcome. Rather than becoming overly defensive about our own position, we need to dare to examine our own position and the concepts we use critically.
So what is interdisciplinarity, then, and what can be expected from it? What can be expected of disciplinarity? I would now like to introduce Professor David Inglis, who will be giving the Finterdis 1-year Anniversary Lecture. David Inglis is Professor of Sociology at the University of Helsinki. Before that, he was Professor of Sociology at the University of Exeter and the University of Aberdeen. He holds degrees in sociology from the Universities of Cambridge and York. He writes in the areas of cultural sociology, the sociology of globalization, historical sociology, the sociology of food and drink, and social theory, both modern and classical. He has written and edited various books in these areas, most recently The Sage Handbook of Cultural Sociology and The Routledge International Handbook of Veils and Veiling Practices, and An Invitation to Social Theory (Polity). He is founding editor of the Sage/BSA journal Cultural Sociology. He serves on the Executive Committee of the European Sociological Association. His current research concerns the sociological analysis of wine and wine world globalization. His most recent publication in that field is the book The Globalization of Wine, published by Bloomsbury, London.
THE AUTHOR WANTS TO EXPRESS MOST HEARTFELT THANKS TO PROFESSOR DAVID INGLIS, AS WELL AS TO AIS MEMBERS MACHIEL KEESTRA, LINDA DE GREEF, JULIE THOMPSON KLEIN, JAMES WELCH, HEIDI UPTON, ANDI HESS, GRETCHEN SCHULTZ, SVEN ARVIDSON, AND OTHERS, FOR THE EXTREMELY EMPOWERING, POSITIVELY ENERGIZING, AND ON-GOING SUPPORT FOR OUR FINTERDIS PROJECT.