As someone who likes to do interdisciplinary research and teaching, I've given a lot of thought to the practicalities of such work in academia. There are a wide range of ways that organizations deal with interdisciplinary work. Some would say that, traditionally, interdisciplinary work has been discouraged. This is a somewhat restricted definition of "tradition," meaning something like "in the last few decades". Certainly, there was a time when academic disciplines were not so well-defined, and thus work was by its nature interdisciplinary.

Be that as it may, these days institutions often prefer that work be clearly defined to fall within a well-understood discipline. There are some good reasons for this:

There are a number of ways to respond to these difficulties, whether or not you consider them to be legitimate or fundamental. Note that I am in no way someone who has given great thought to this from any point of view than a personal, practical level. You will know almost as much as me of the theoretical thought behind interdisciplinarity by reading Wikipedia. The response that seems of most practical utility to me is what some would call the "traditional" approach (they would, I suspect, likely use that word in a pejorative sense): individuals from multiple fields coming together to work on problems that span their expertise.

There are a host of other ways of looking at this matter, however. At the extreme, you may have people who consider disciplinary work to be invalid, or even dangerous. Thus, you have statements such as the "Charter of Transdisciplinarity" that to me, frankly (and please excuse me if you find this offensive), appears to be an intellectually vacuous, Luddite screed against science and technology. (To entertain yourself, read the comments on Wikipedia for the "transdisciplinarity" entry.) Or, similarly, treatises that seem more focused on ideology and the semantics of the "trans-" prefix than learning about the natural world around us.

OK, I am no doubt being unfair and demonstrating the ignorance of a person who thinks more like a craftsman doing interdisciplinary work than a researcher who thinks deeply about the nature of interdisciplinary work. But I am also a computer scientist and a smart-ass, and so I note the following. As of Sunday evening, December 3, 2006, the Google hits for the following words were:

Clearly, then, the future must belong to "exodisciplinarity". Or, at least, I get to coin the term, from the point of view of being the only page hit on Google for it. Isn't interdisciplinary work fun?

Update 12/11/06: A week later, with no Google hits showing for "exodisciplinarity," I linked to this page from my blog. The next day, there were two hits for "exodisciplinarity".

Update 1/14/07: About a month later, and there are eight Google hits. One is even for a web page that isn't mine, though it is a page that is an automatic synopsis of science blogs that match certain terms.

Update 10/9/07: The forces of exodisciplinarity appear to be losing mindshare:

However, after a bit more examination, it appears that Google is getting better at pruning search results. Metadisciplinarity held up fairly well, but the big winner is pluridisciplinarity.

Update 12/9/08: A little more than a year has gone by, and we're up to five hits, including one mention in a Belgian mathematics research project that appears to have also coined the term "endodisciplinarity" (hopefully, unrelated to endoscopy). Also, "multidisciplinarity" has passed "transdisciplinarity" in number of hits. Here are the stats:

  • interdisciplinarity: 325,000
  • multidisciplinarity: 94,100
  • transdisciplinarity: 85,200
  • pluridisciplinarity: 2,710
  • metadisciplinarity: 280
  • exodisciplinarity: 5
  • endodisciplinarity: 1