chapter  3
15 Pages

(research-based) The Commons: Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Encounters


To attempt to understand teaching and learning within and beyond disciplinary boundaries, we must first comprehend how disciplines function and interact as social systems. In honor of the venue of this colloquium at the University of Edinburgh, and in keeping with an inclusive British tradition, I will situate my discussion in the history and philosophy of this island. The idea of ‘the commons’ provides context to explore disciplinary regions and interrelations. ‘Commons’ has three definitions in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998): land set aside for public use; the common people as opposed to those in authority; the common people viewed as forming part of a political system. These definitions evoke the sense of occupied terrain that Becher (1989) suggested in Academic Tribes and Territories, but also one that is shared communally. An additional connotation, in ‘the common people versus authority’, is the challenge to traditional practices or legitimacy. The geographical origins of the commons in British history are described in the following manner:

In Domesday [1086] the villages cluster thickly along the spring-line at the foot of the Downs. It was during this period that the open-field system seems to have developed: the lands of each estate were divided into two or three great open fields which were ploughed in strips by the peasantry, a system which continued right through the Middle Ages and even into the twentieth century.