Interdisciplinarity

The Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies (JIMS) regards interdisciplinarity as synergetic generation of new knowledge – as opposed to multidisciplinarity, the accumulation of knowledge from different disciplines. Interdisciplinarity may be regarded as a temporary state, since interdisciplinary research areas (such as for example music analysis and computing, music analysis and cultural studies, or musicology and psychology) tend to transform gradually into new disciplines or paradigms (such as computing in musicology, semiotics, or music psychology).

Defining “humanities” and “sciences”

JIMS promotes interdisciplinarity between epistemologically distant disciplines – in particular, between humanities and sciences. These two supradisciplines are considered to be equally important, both in general and within music research. There is no clear consensus about the definition and boundaries of humanities and sciences, and JIMS is reluctant to offer a general definition, but prefers to consider their relationship in individual submissions. The following attempt at a definition may be useful as a basis for discussion. There appears to be stronger consensus about the meaning of “humanities” than “sciences”. Most agree that humanities include arts, cultural studies, history, languages, literature, philosophy and religion. JIMS uses “sciences” in the modern English sense of natural and social sciences, and not in the original Latin sense of any knowledge, skill or scholarship. Although the original sense of scientia appears to have included humanities (or their precursors), the scientia of philosophers such as Aristotle and Boethius was (from a modern viewpoint) positivistic, emphasizing logic, first principles and demonstration. The ambiguity of the word “science” is less pronounced in other languages such as German, in which “humanities” translates to Geisteswissenschaften and “sciences” (in the sense used here) to Naturwissenschaften (or Natur- und Sozialwissenschaften). The following broad generalisations distinguish humanities from sciences in current music research. Of course there are plenty of exceptions to every rule.

Music research in the humanities tends in the following directions:

  • The object of research is individual manifestations of music (performances, works, pieces, songs, styles, genres, traditions, cultures).
  • Knowledge is acquired by personal experience, intuition and introspection.
  • Research methods are qualitative (based on text and language) and include analytic, critical, and speculative approaches.
  • Different researchers are expected to come to different conclusions

Music research in the sciences tends in the following directions:

  • Questions are posed about music in general.
  • Knowledge is acquired by observation and comparing hypotheses with evidence.
  • Research methods are quantitative (based on measurement, data, computation, statistics) and empirical.
  • Different researchers are expected to come to similar conclusions.

In a broad definition, both humanities and sciences may include applications of research in musical practice – which in turn may be broadly defined to include not only performance, composition and improvisation, but also education, therapy and medicine. Thus, JIMS may classify humanities-oriented musical practice (e.g., the history of performance practice, compositionally oriented music theory, or the teaching of ethnomusicology) as “humanities” , and scientifically oriented musical practice (e.g. the psychology of music performance, music medicine, or musically relevant engineering applications) as “sciences”.

Historical context

The distinction between humanities and sciences in music research is best understood in its historical context. JIMS tentatively interprets that history as follows.Since the 19th Century, the study of music has traditionally been situated in three main areas:

  • the humanities, which focus on historical or critical methods;
  • the social sciences, whose methods include ethnography and mixed (quantitative and qualitative) methods; and
  • musical practice, such as composition, performance, and education.

But scientific research on music (as defined above) has also flourished since the 19th Century in areas such as acoustics, psychology and neuroscience, and much of the scholarship that led to or began ethnomusicology was carried out by people grounded in the natural sciences such as Ellis, Stumpf, Hornbostel and Abraham. Moreover, scientific approaches to music can be traced back to ancient philosophy and medieval music theory. Recent advances in production, computer and measurement technologies, and corresponding developments in areas such as cognition and neuropsychology, have expanded the range of music research. At the same time, traditional musicology has grown and diversified. In recent decades, the research literature in most disciplines has rapidly expanded and become more specialised. Today, it takes many years of careful work to acquire expertise at the highest international level in a given discipline. It is no longer possible for individual researchers to attain international recognition as experts in both humanities and sciences, and the unclear boundary between humanities and sciences does not mean that expertise is transferable from one side to the other. This is true both generally and within music research.

Implications for JIMS

JIMS promotes all internationally established, academically recognized approaches to music research. Given that no individual researcher today is a recognized expert in both humanities and sciences, JIMS promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork, and regards it as a prerequisite for interdisciplinary scholarship at the highest level. Assuming that humanities and sciences are fundamentally equal in importance, JIMS encourages authors to aim for a balance between humanities and sciences within individual submissions, and to bridge the gap both epistemologically and methodologically (e.g. by qualitative research methods). The journal also aims for a balance among articles that primarily address specific musical pieces, styles, traditions or cultures (which is typical of the musical humanities), and articles that primarily address more general musical questions about music (typical of the musical sciences).

Acknowledgment: This text was written by Richard Parncutt in collaboration with Ali Cenk Gedik. We thank David Fallows, Susan McClary, Raymond MacDonald, Bruno Nettl and Eleanor Selfridge-Field for their valuable comments and support and welcome further suggestions.