Knowledge Specialization No Longer Relevant. What Can We Do?
The contemporary world and society involve highly complex systems, requiring more than specialized knowledge. The MA programme 'Politics. Economics. Philosophy' helps students go beyond the limits of specific social sciences.
Why an inter- or trans-disciplinary approach is necessary
The MA programme 'Politics. Economics. Philosophy' (PEP) has been offered by HSE for two years. The Oxford University programme ‘Philosophy, Politics and Economics’ is a ‘parent example’. It was launched at Oxford almost a century ago, and, in some sense, stood against the general trend toward increasingly specialized knowledge. Gradually it became clear that a complex and integrated approach to social science is essential in studying and solving the problems facing us in the world today.
‘The Intellectual History course on our programme represents just such an approach‘, said Mikhail Ilyin, tenured professor at HSE, ‘It is far from being a combination of the various different histories of political, philosophical, and economic thought. On the contrary, it doesn’t include many topics on specific disciplines. And even classes that one might expect to be like that, i.e. those on Keynes or Dahl, focus on their ideas’ interdisciplinary or even transdisciplinary importance’.
Who chooses this programme?
The programme’s students are recent graduates who see their future in research; biologists and physicists who lack knowledge in the humanities, social sciences and economics; lawyers and managers (including top-level executives in major companies), and others who want to improve their knowledge and understanding of the world around them.
Over the last two years, the HSE programme succeeded in winning international recognition and has become part of a larger ‘family’ of similar international programmes. ‘Just recently, I found clear evidence of this during a conference in our partner university, Witten/Herdecke’, said Mikhail Ilyin, ‘HSE students took part in it. And, obviously, not only is interest in our programme big, but it’s also growing, other universities are ready to accept our students, and international students are ready to take part in exchange programmes’.
Students from Germany, Ghana, and Ethiopia already study at the programme alongside Russians, and in the new academic year, the programme is enrolling students from Norway, Italy, France, and Mozambique.
How the study process works
Since the programme enrolls people from various different professional and research backgrounds, they are initially offered bridging courses. Rather than repeating basic undergraduate courses, this prepares students for their further studies. For example, mathematics is one of the bridging courses, since the programme includes a significant emphasis on data analysis in social science. The students’ various different educational and professional backgrounds are also taken into account, when they choose the topics for their term papers and master’s theses.
Renowned international researchers are invited to lead courses at the programme. For example, Uskali Mäki, one of the world’s leading experts in transdisciplinary research, conducted several classes with PEP students in May 2016. ‘We have a list of researchers from Holland, Germany, Italy and other countries who are ready to follow the example of their Finnish colleague’, Mikhail Ilyin noted. And Professor Boris Kapustin, who taught at a similar programme at Yale for about 20 years, will start teaching at PEP in the fall.
‘Plato made a very succinct and, in my view, profound definition of philosophy: philosophy begins with wonder’, Professor Kapustin said, ‘Without the ability to wonder, no discoveries, no breakthroughs in social science, and no solutions to worldly everyday problems are possible’.
Boris Kapustin invites future students to the research seminar. Here, they can learn more about the idea of research itself, how to see something new in something usual, how to ‘discover the multidimensional character of phenomena classified by each specific discipline as its own’. ‘We’ll work with contemporary classics, such as texts by Max Weber, Joseph Schumpeter, Amartya Sen, and the Frankfurt School’, Prof. Kapustin added.
Why communication matters
The programme attracts students to research. For example, an interdisciplinary conference on the institutional aspects of development took place in December 2016, and a conference on future interdisciplinary perspectives will be held in 2017. ‘Those students who are able to submit persuasive papers are welcome at these academic forums and other more informal meetings’, said Mikhail Ilyin.
The PEP programme started in Russian, but with a clear ‘English accent’. And in its second year, English naturally became its main teaching language. ‘We don’t forget the Russian language‘, Prof. Ilyin stressed, ‘Both during the classes and in our extracurricular academic discussions we, teachers, and the students easily discuss the opportunities and limitations offered to us by English, Russian and other natural languages, research paradigms, certain terminology systems, and so on’.
In his lecture on December 3 at the HSE St Petersburg on 'Progress: A Reconstruction', Professor Peter Wagner (University of Barcelona) raised questions related to the nature of progress and our attitude to it. Professor Wagner is ICREA Research Professor in the Department of Sociological Theory, Philosophy of Law and Methodology of the Social Sciences at the University of Barcelona. He has been cooperating with HSE since 2014. Before his lecture, Editor of HSE English News, Anya Chernyakhovskaya talked to Professor Wagner about the elusive and changing nature of progress.
On December 12-24 a series of workshops on experimental methods for researchers by Prashant Loyalka, Leading Research Fellow of the International Laboratory for Education Policy Analysis at the HSE Graduate School of Education took place at HSE Institute of Education. He also delivered a series of lectures on ‘Quasi-experimental Research in Education’ for master’s students in Educational and Psychological Measurement.