Are good mixers badly served?

Journal editor calls for more respect and cash for interdisciplinary arts research. Zoe Corbyn reports

August 14, 2008

Interdisciplinary research in the arts and humanities is threatened by a lack of recognition and a dearth of funding, according to the convenor of a new group of interdisciplinary journal editors.

"There is no body representing interdisciplinary scholarship," said Marquard Smith, editor-in-chief of the interdisciplinary Journal of Visual Culture and a course director in Kingston University's faculty of art, design and architecture.

"Without wanting to be melodramatic, we need (a) discussion about the very future of interdisciplinary research and interdisciplinary publishing in the arts and humanities," Dr Smith said.

The new group has met once and will meet again in September before going public with a conference early next year.

It includes editors from seven peer-reviewed international interdisciplinary journals and a small number of societies and associations, and Dr Smith urged more to join in.

Key among the group's concerns is the treatment of some interdisciplinary research journals in the new European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH), a ranked list of humanities journals drawn up by the European Science Foundation to help identify research excellence.

One interdisciplinary journal, Radical Philosophy, received the lowest rating type in the ERIH's initial list for philosophy journals published in May.

"What is going on when one of the most reputable journals in the field of philosophy isn't given anywhere near the kind of respect that it deserves?" Dr Smith asked.

"(Interdisciplinary journals) cut across lots of areas, but the ERIH pigeonholes them," said David Cunningham, one of the editors of Radical Philosophy.

Dr Smith said there were concerns about how interdisciplinary arts and humanities research would be assessed in the forthcoming research assessment framework, which will replace the research assessment exercise and use statistical indicators such as journal citations to help determine the allocations of more than £1 billion a year in research funding.

Dr Smith cited fears that only "conventional" interdisciplinary research was being funded and that many interdisciplinary journals have no association or society to argue their corner.

"We very often find ourselves falling between stools - between associations, between societies, between research councils and between academic departments."

Some interdisciplinary centres in teaching-led universities are not getting the respect or funding they deserve, he said, despite success at "pushing the boundaries".

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