[ISEA2011] Paper: Charles Walker – Beyond the Conflict of the Faculties: a New Institutionalist case study of the founding of a radical transdisciplinary art/science/technology program


In 2005, Auckland University of Technology drew together four existing Schools (Art & Design, Communications & Media Studies, Computing & Mathematical Sciences, and Engineering) into one new Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies. In 2007, the Faculty formed the Interdisciplinary Unit, a “virtual 5th school” to develop forward-thinking experimental alliances, research collaborations and learning experiences across these overlapping disciplines.

In physical, virtual and networked studio environments, the Unit draws together radical elements of art, computer science, engineering, mathematics, design, digital humanities and philosophy of technology, as well as projects based on entrepreneurial practices and industry partnerships. Yet, while the Unit has been seen as ambitious and timely in challenging normative disciplinary boundaries and practices, it has also attracted initial scepticism and hostility.

This paper introduces a critical study of the ideas, agencies and structures involved in establishing this controversial fifth element, and the possibilities for new creative practices across disciplines in increasingly highly-institutionalised electronic arts/science/technology environments.

What are at stake here are the (frequently rhetorical) processes whereby certain modes of knowledge practices may be credibly authorised, legitimised, privileged, contested or marginalized.  More importantly, however, this paper argues that although there has been a revival of research into various forms of inter- or trans-disciplinarity over the last decade or so, there have been very few sustained attempts to develop accounts of how it really affects the day-to-day lives, experiences and practices of academics, students, practitioners, administrators and other stakeholders who are actually engaged in operating across the well-policed territorial borders of institutionalised education and practice.  This is even more surprising if we also consider the very different motivations for inter-disciplinarity, ranging from the top-down imperatives from senior administrators looking for institutional efficiency, to bottom-up, experimental or opportunistic approaches by academics responding to ontological and epistemological shifts or career possibilities.

In discussing the contested evolution of this interdisciplinary agenda, this paper will briefly revisit Kant’s 18th century Conflict of the Faculties – a treatise on disciplinary status and self-interest that remains prescient in our own new-Darwinian academic landscape.

The provocative findings of the current research are based on data obtained in interviews with situated individuals; highlighting frequently overlooked investments in the micro-politics of disciplinarity, and how these influence the wider socio-professional and disciplinary ecologies of practice within which they operate.

The presentation will also show examples of innovative art/science/technology projects that have been developed by the Unit.

  • Charles Walker trained as an architect at Edinburgh College of Art (UK) and attained a Masters in Urban Development from the Faculty of Business at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. His PhD from the University of Auckland (NZ) explored the role of inter-subjective agency and ethics in professional accreditation processes for architectural educationHe joined Auckland University of Technology in 2007 to develop new approaches to trans-disciplinary education by drawing together design, computing, engineering, mathematics, philosophy, art and entrepreneurship. He is the inaugural Director of the Interdisciplinary Unit and a founding co-director of Colab, a node for Creative Technologies research at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. Current research explores sentient cities and the co-creation of complex and diverse ecologies of creative practice.   aut.ac.nz/study/study-options/creative-technologies  colab.org.nz

Full text (PDF) p. 2527-2529