Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Essential: Cross-Disciplinary Expertise

This week’s reading was, again, a clear reminder of what it takes to be an expert in the field… As a communication scholar, the desire to walk the walk and talk the talk entails SO MUCH more than grabbing hold of a fist full of theories, staking a claim with positivists or post-positivists, and rolling out relevant research questions that easily identify with current social issues. Early on in my graduate work, this is how I interpreted the field of research, and I would venture to guess that many other young scholars have done so, too. While I am, by no means, proficient and well versed in my selected academic arena, this last year and a half has begun to reveal to me how credible (and beneficial) research needs to be so much more than just a theoretical framework and an appropriately paired methodology. In fact, I begin to feel a wee bit of excitement when I recognize the relevant areas in which I do not know. Of course, while the landscape of the unknown becomes wider and greater, I’m thankful that I’m beginning to see the expanding boundaries and how they have an essential place within and among my own research interests. It is only at this point that I’m can see where truly grounded research questions can begin to unfold.

Of course, the culture-centered approach has definitely broadened my own boundaries. But, for me, it also filled in some gaping holes to questions that I’ve continually held near and dear to me as they relate to culture, underserved audiences, and a desire to make a difference… not for myself, or my area of research, but rather for the people who have entrusted (and will entrust) me with their wellbeing.

So, this long, drawn out personal diatribe leads into my notion of cross-disciplinary expertise being essential. Taking the chapters for this week’s reading as a case in point, the discussion revolves around culture, globalization, economics, health, communication, politics, public policy… and, of course, marginalized audiences. It is reasonable to say that such discussions put us at that often debated intersection of sociology, anthropology, philosophy, economics, political science, etc.

While this might seem like such a simple and naïve statement, it seems necessary (at least for me) as a stark reminder to lay out on the table that if, as researchers, we desire to enter into the public discourse on access to health care by marginalized populations, we better darn well be confident in our working knowledge of globalization trends, current policies, issues in healthcare, and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to hypothesize and prove why certain public service movements may primarily be economically driven at the macro level. If we can do this, then we are closer to being positioned as effective liaisons between two vastly different worldviews. If we cannot do this, then the desire we may have to serve these underserved populations will fall right back into the hands of the dominant powers that be… and, perhaps, without us even fully recognizing the ramifications.

As I continue to read through the literature, I’m beginning to question more if a greater number of researchers in our field are not as capable in the manner I just described than we’d like to admit (or can even recognize). While this may sound like I’m gloating that I’m well on my way to being a well-rounded researcher, and others are wading around in their very compact research paradigms, I assure you I am not. Perhaps, more importantly, I sit here asking if young social science scholars are being mentored and challenged to look beyond the confines of their immediate discipline to find, not only the answers, but even the questions.

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