June 21, 2023

On Boxes and Blurriness

It’s human nature to want to define ourselves. To check boxes. 

Academia is no different. I’m a musician. I’m a historian. I’m a pedagogue. “In my discipline…” 

These academic labels act as suits of armor which we strap on to further the noble pursuit of seeking knowledge in our disciplines. However, we often end up expanding disciplinary silos along the way.  

But what if one feels most comfortable in-between disciplines?  In liminal spaces. After all, this is where the magic happens, where complexity thrives. And where complexity thrives, wicked problems have fertile ground on which to bloom. This is where transdisciplinarians like to be – in these complex, emergent, wicked spaces. 

You might be asking yourself; how do I know if I fit into this (these) space(s)? I asked myself that very question many times over the course of my academic career, never quite fitting into one box. Even within the singular field of music, I found myself needing four labels to describe my identity. Pianist. Composer. Historian. Pedagogue. I was told by mentors and professors in so many words to “stay in my lane”, to not seek out the blurring of lines. I was discouraged to say the least.  

 It wasn’t until I began my Ph.D. in Musicology at CGU that I discovered that multiple checked boxes aren’t a hinderance, rather something to be celebrated and cultivated. I took a transdisciplinary course on the integration of arts and science, and my world changed. All the boxes were checked, and it felt marvelous.  

 If you are feeling a similar sense of unrest in your boxed-in academic identity, it could prove valuable to ask yourself any and all of the following questions: 

  1. Do I find emergent spaces exciting?
  2. Do I seek to collaborate with others from backgrounds and disciplines different than my own?
  3. Do I gravitate towards looking at the world holistically and seeing interconnectedness?
  4. Do I want to be part of a community that is focused on justice-oriented futures?
  5. Do I want to effect real change by solving complex problems?

If these questions resonated with you, you may be a budding transdisciplinarian. Claremont Graduate University offers a Masters in Transdisciplinary Analysis, providing students with transdisciplinary knowledge and tools to tackle wicked problems and effect change in a collaborative environment.  

If you’d like more information about our wonderfully blurry no-box-in-sight space, please contact the Transdisciplinary Studies program. We’d love to have you join the ride.  

Dr. Rebecca Holman Williams is a music educator and adjunct faculty member with the Transdisciplinary Studies program at CGU.