Dr. Luke Devine, Course Leader for Politics, explains why the study of Politics is inherently transdisciplinary in that it draws on insights from a range of different academic disciplines to analyse contemporary politics in new, exciting, and innovative ways.
The study of Politics is inherently transdisciplinary. Indeed, by its very nature the production of “knowledge” in Politics is couched in transdisciplinarity. This is because the study of Politics draws together a range of disciplines, research methodologies, theoretic bases, and a diversity of practices. Taken in isolation, these criteria might be reduceable to disciplinary constraints, but in convergence the study of Politics can draw on a range of influences without being limited or defined by them.[i] Indeed, Politics’ transdisciplinary base means that students of contemporary politics can draw on a range of insights, methodological and analytical tools.
Take political discourse analysis, which comes from the classical political dialogues of Plato and Aristotle. Both laboured to explain the differences between “belief” and “knowledge” and the dynamics of political rhetoric. Moreover, both theorised how and why politicians come to make decisions and develop arguments. In doing so, Plato identified political discursive as a form of “persuasion,” while Aristotle analysed the factors and realpolitik that can inform politicians’ decision making. Overall, both came to very different conclusions. Plato’s preference for “philosopher-kings,” in practice, would have signalled an end to politics, political rhetoric and debate as we now understand it. By contrast, Aristotle looked towards a politically engaged citizenry and the application of deliberation, contemplation, and “reason”. Indeed, Athens’ classical age continues to offer a wealth of opportunities for the study of political discourse and many scholars continue to utilise the classic dialogues of Plato, Aristotle and others. Transdisciplinarity, however, encourages different understandings of political discourse analysis that can take us beyond the focus on political debate, decision-making, language, and popular understandings of “politics”.
The field of political discourse analysis is in fact far more diverse than politics in and of itself; discourse analysis, like Politics, is at its root transdisciplinary. Take Michel Foucault who contributed to discourse analysis by accounting for the complex relationship between “discourse” and “power” in institutional contexts. This has enabled new understandings of the productivity of language in the formation of identity and its “performative” practices vis-à-vis Judith Butler, inroads into political sociology, which can demonstrate the impact of political rhetoric on every-day lives, and even analysis of the “discursive through the extra-discursive” (beyond language), taking us into the realms of psychoanalysis.[ii] Transdisciplinarity here means that political discourse analysis can be taken beyond the constraints of popular “politics” or assumptions that the “political” is nothing more than the “Westminster bubble”.
Indeed, discourse analysis is something we all do in some shape or form. This might include watching politicians speak and/or debate, reading a politically inflected news story, or analysing a party webpage or manifesto, legislation, Hansard, a non-governmental report, or turning to your favourite political journalist. Comparably, political discourse analysis as a tool for students and scholars is equally diverse. Politics is inculcated with the tagline of Second-Wave feminism that “the personal is political”.[iii] This means that the “political” is just as much the everyday as it is Westminster, Parliament, or the government. Certainly, there is no limit to the range of sources that can be analysed, nor to the methodologies, tools, and research perspectives that can be applied.
Take Sigmund Freud, the architect of psychoanalysis, yet equally passionate about ancient Egypt and archaeology. Freud applied psychoanalysis to understand the ancient origins of Judaism through “regression”, identifying suppressed trauma in the proto phase of a traditional religion using a pseudo-historical approach. In Politics we can do the same in considering the discursive, psychological and historical factors that inform our own political beliefs, our earliest psychosocial associations with a political party, and our preference for one politician over another. Or, we can apply Freud’s psycho-historical perspective to wider political traumas – what about Brexit? Can we regress the historical origins of Brexit, its associated traumas, memories, and long forgotten origins? Need we set parameters or observe historical and historiographical strictures in doing so, or can we, like Freud, explore the non-rational, the archaeology and extent of the unconscious, and the limitlessness of our dreams?
Accordingly, Politics’ transdisciplinary perspective is sufficiently fluid in its appropriation of diverse methods of inquiry that it can be home to discourse analytical, philosophical, historical, sociological, and psychoanalytical perspectives, each taken in isolation disciplines of their own volition, but through transdisciplinarity a range of analytical tools open to the student of Politics. Such is the transdisciplinary nature of Politics, on the one hand we can opt to build on the philosophical foundations laid down by Plato and others, or on the other, to deconstruct the matrix of Western philosophy as masculinist and androcentric according to the classic pathbreaking texts of Simone de Beauvoir or Luce Irigaray. In fact, Politics can even reject Western philosophy wholesale, its claims to “truth”, “knowledge” and universalism vis-à-vis Friedrich Nietzsche. This is the purpose of Politics – to reject what we understand to be “common sense”.
In this way, Politics’ transdisciplinary base makes it easy to draw on intersectionality qua bell hooks and later scholars, feminist political discourse analysis, Critical Race Theory (CRT), historical and sociological perspectives to analyse sexuality, gender, ethnicity/“race”, disability, religion, age, etc. in terms of contemporary politics. This means that the study of Politics can account for contemporary inequalities in education, healthcare, the family, the workplace, and the criminal justice system. But through Whiteness Studies, the legacies of slavery, colonialism, and empire, and in fact, in light of postmodernist perspectives, the very notion of “politics” itself as it is popularly understood. In doing so, Politics need never lose sight of political systems, politicians, discursive contexts, legislation, and polices; transdisciplinarity simply means that we need not be constrained or limited in analysing them.
Transdisciplinarity, then, is more than a framework for amalgamating the research perspectives and theoretical foundations of different disciplines; transdisciplinarity can actually help to signal the value of the “‘pre-disciplinary’”.[iv] This means approaching the study of Politics beyond not only disciplinary and inter-disciplinary parameters, but beyond popular conceptions of the term, where possible decontextualizing, decentring, and deconstructing, but always understanding that there are different bases of “belief” (doxa) and “knowledge”, from the non-rational to the empirical and beyond. And by inescapably returning to the questions that transfixed Plato, Aristotle, and others, perhaps Plato’s “cave” allegory and the identification of “‘sunlight’”, however dazzling, as akin to the quest for “‘knowledge’” in its entirety (Republic 475b, 516a, 518a) is a fitting metaphor for the transdisciplinary and its possibilities.[v]
The University of Worcester offers several Politics degrees including History with Politics BA (Hons), Law with Politics BA (Hons), Psychology with Politics BSc (Hons) and Sociology with Politics BA (Hons).
All views expressed in this blog are the Academic’s own and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of the University of Worcester or any of its partners.
[i] Michael Gibbons et al. The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (London: Sage, 2010), p. 139.
[ii] Derek Hook, “Discourse, Knowledge, Materiality, History: Foucault and Discourse Analysis”, Theory and Psychology, 11.4 (2001), 521-547 (p. 543).
[iii] Carol Hanisch, “The Personal is Political”, in Radical Feminism: A Documentary Reader, ed. by Barbara Crow (New York: New York University Press, 2000), pp. 113-116 (p. 113).
[iv] Norman Fairclough, “Critical Discourse Analysis”, in The Routledge Handbook of Discourse Analysis, ed. by James Gee and Michael Handford (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), pp. 9-20 (p. 9).
[v] Plato, Republic, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 194, 242, 245.