3. I’m Ketan.
I started my academic career at Sussex some years ago, having obtained both my professional law degree and master’s degree at our wonderful institution. During and after my legal studies, I worked variously for local tax authorities, an investment bank, a charity advocating for rights for disabled persons, and corporate law firms.
My vision as a Hive Scholar is to harness this space — physical and virtual — to mobilise interdisciplinarity among doctoral researchers. That term is thrown around a lot, but perhaps nowhere is it more linked to both institutional identity and historical circumstance than at Sussex. This commitment, formed by our founders in response to perceived shortcomings in higher education on the international scale, originally took the form of a ‘core and context’ system for undergraduate students, whereby taking any degree required a combination of general and specialist study.
Like American higher education, undergraduates were to take some general study regardless of their intended specialisation — i.e. every student in the humanities or social sciences had to take a common paper on philosophy. But unlike our transatlantic counterparts, interdisciplinary education here took the form of seminars convened under the joint tutorship of academics from different disciplines. By way of example, a module entitled “The Industrial Revolution and the English Literary Imagination,” in the School of English & American Studies (as it was then) sought to enrich formalist textual analysis (taught by English professors) with wider historical context (taught by History professors).
The purpose of this system was not simply ‘create better thinkers’ out of undergraduate students, but rather to produce better specialists. It was a system of study designed to foster independent research with a view to cultivating the skills for novel research, rather than encouraging the proliferation of trivial or ‘handbook knowledge’ across a number of disciplines. In essence, it was meant to cultivate, among other things, the skills that characterise good doctoral research. For many of us, by the time we enter doctoral study, the principle underpinning interdisciplinarity — that clarity of peripheral subjects can illuminate the core — is familiar. Far less familiar are techniques to understand how we might achieve that clarity through interactions with our academic peers. One cause of this myopia can be found in our subject-based silos, themselves produced by research needs and patterns of departmental organisation. Where and how we research, whether in labs or shared office space, directly influences what kinds of ideas we are exposed to. This is of course not helped by subject-specific vocabularies and methodologies that serve as disincentives for wider research paradigms.
My hope that through the Hive, we can start the right conversations. Interdisciplinarity often provokes more questions than it answers. How do we solve the academic language barrier? Can historically fruitful interdisciplinary exchanges be generalised and systematised into some kind of method, or are they transient wonders of chance? Even those questions are not new, and perhaps they will remain insoluble. However, it is my firm belief that a platform for doctoral researchers can avoid the pitfalls of a purely symbolic or nominal interdisciplinarity. Arriving at this stage of our academic careers should make it possible to avoid intellectual dilettantism (or Ruskin’s ‘handbook knowledge’), that practice of selectively invoking concepts or studies from outside one’s field for the sake of appearances, which is at best self-congratulatory and at worst an excellent way to cross-sterilise to the two fields at issue.. Framed correctly, however, knowledge exchange ought to result in the cross fertilisation of our research landscapes. If not, at least we will have tried. In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.