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Towards an Interdisciplinarity of Repair

By Ella Castanier

May 15, 2024

In Response to Towards a Cosmopolitanism of Repair

In his essay “Towards a Cosmopolitanism of Repair” Ranjit Hoskote asks, “What if we approached the world quite deliberately from the opposite position with a declaration of our own vulnerability, an acknowledgement of the plurality of sources from which we ourselves are constructed?” Interdisciplinary programs within academia, such as the medical humanities, offer this plurality and vulnerability by reevaluating disciplinary boundaries.

We should view the academy as a microcosm of the world Hoskote presents, in which we are seeing this rise of “neo-tribalism” in the form of disciplinary borders. With the increasing privilege of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at the expense of the humanities, fields are pitted against others based on their utilitarian value and economic output. Within Hoskote’s conception of a “pathology of cultural uniqueness and superiority,” we see a pathology of disciplinary uniqueness and superiority.

How, then, within this new standard, can students be prepared to encounter the Other? Luckily, a liberal arts curriculum is designed to create a pluralist education which encourages engagements with the sciences, humanities, and arts. This is meant to offer what Hoskote suggests: “a kaleidoscope that would challenge us with surprises and epiphanies.” However, a distributed curriculum may not be enough. Disciplines remain segmented, even if taken in tandem. Students must view various disciplines as interconnected rather than complementary.

Interdisciplinary curriculum offers a “Non-Alignment” within higher education. Interdisciplinarity is not a form of neutrality, but rather is resistant to binaries. Hoskote writes that Non-Alignment “staked a non-binary claim to chart a third way.” This third way within academia creates a new paradigm in which cosmopolitanism is privileged over competition.

One interdisciplinary field is the medical humanities, which arose in the 1970s in response to the medical profession becoming increasingly paternalistic and divorced from the experiences of its patients. This new field sought to imbue the practice of medicine with its social, cultural, and historical contexts. Medical humanities empowers physicians to encounter Others, to work with Others, and to understand Others.

Universities should foster the growth of such interdisciplinary programs. Not only do these programs resist binaries, but they recognize the synergy of various methods and philosophies which give rise to a greater empathy for and understanding of the world.

Ella Castanier (C’24) is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences at Georgetown University.