Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies

Building on the success of the undergraduate program, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences offers a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies. The graduate courses offer opportunities to pursue concrete questions of interest across a wide range of fields, spanning the humanities, social sciences and environmental sciences, with special emphasis on the relation of knowledge to public action. For more information, please contact the graduate program advisor.

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What are Interdisciplinary Studies?

The program integrates the sociology of knowledge, philosophy, social and political theory, history, cultural studies, anthropology and systems theory to shed light on domains of public action. Our concept of interdisciplinary studies is founded on a recognition that our experience of phenomena--such as the public problems of poverty, violence, social justice or environmental degradation--do not come in neatly bounded, disciplinary or professional packages. While disciplinary divisions of labor are convenient and necessary to the efficient pursuit of in-depth knowledge, the application of that knowledge in the sphere of public action requires a broader re-integration with the rich, multidisciplinary dimensions and complexities of actual situations.

The Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies is especially appropriate for students with an interest in public action, public service and/or public policy. Here, public action is generously understood. An appreciation of the public nature of writing, speech, knowledge production, policy formation and decision making opens the door to a wide array of possible pursuits through which students can develop the specific knowledge and skills needed to make a positive contribution in the world within their chosen areas of interest.

The structure of the Master of Arts program is highly flexible, building on the wealth of interdisciplinary expertise among the faculty. A required series of four core courses and a capstone course addresses issues of models, problem formation, evidence and values. The core courses examine the basic foundations of knowing and acting, making them relevant to diverse areas of specific inquiry. Through electives and a thesis (or master's project), students are encouraged to apply the lessons of the core courses to their own chosen areas of interdisciplinary interest. A broad range of student interests can be accommodated due to the interdisciplinary nature of the program.

Examples of possible areas of interest, broadly defined, might include the environment, education, ethnicity, gender, families, arts policy and administration, children and the media, human rights, labor, immigration, trade, development, urban studies, the role of state and local government, non-profit organizations or international non-governmental organizations.

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What will you learn?

  • How alternative paradigms or models condition our knowledge of the world and how our choice of potential responses connects to how we perceive things to be organized.
     
  • How to gain insight into the impact of culture and history on the way certain phenomena come to be defined in the public arena as problems, and how they are variously imagined to be caused or solved in relation to diverse professional and disciplinary claims of ownership over them.
     
  • How evidence can be justified, generated, evaluated and used with varying degrees of validity within diverse frames of applicability.
     
  • How to gain insight into the ways in which values are implicitly or explicitly present in every arena socially deemed to be problematic, and how it may be possible to facilitate communication, negotiations or trade-offs among and across diverse value frames.

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What is public action?

Effective public action entails determinations reached through general and academic considerations in the core courses. These include:

  • What is the nature of the problem to be addressed?
     
  • What mode of analysis is to be employed?
     
  • What will count as evidence?
     
  • What values are considered relevant or irrelevant?
     
  • What options are included or excluded?
     
  • What outcomes of the action are anticipated or unanticipated?

By exploring these questions, the master's program becomes a sustained investigation of factors that critically shape actions, procedures and outcomes. The factors to be investigated include:

  • Conceptual models
     
  • Social and institutional cultures
     
  • Various types of data used to support decisions
     
  • Values in relation to diverse contexts of application

These factors provide a foundation for knowledge and action in the public sphere. The core course of study in this program may therefore apply to virtually any profession or endeavor in our shared public life; whether one works in a large organization or a one-person shop, whether one seeks knowledge for utilitarian ends or to achieve a richer understanding of the world in which we all must live and act.

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