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SSI1-141: Architectures of Power (Prof. Melchior): Multidisciplinary Perspectives

Multidisciplinary Inquiry

The themes you are exploring in this course invite analysis from more than one academic discipline. Yet what is an academic discipline?  Although definitions vary, most scholars agree that an academic discipline shares the following characteristics:

  • A specific focus of study;
  • A specific research methodology;
  • An accumulated body of knowledge that all practitioners share;
  • Theories or concepts that help organize the shared body of knowledge;
  • Specific vocabulary used to describe the shared knowledge;
  • Usually, the discipline is taught in colleges and universities;
  • New disciplines emerge when ruptures, disagreements, or new information can no longer be contained within the "old" discipline.

What do you think are the advantages of academic disciplines?  Might there be any disadvantages?

Most academic disciplines have one or more subject databases that index and disseminate scholarly work within that discipline.  It is impossible to understate how important it is to search disciplinary databases when doing research.  

At Collins Library, the main subject databases for each academic discipline taught at the university can be found under the "Articles" tab on each Research by Subject page.

Exploring Academic Disciplines

During this in-class assignment, you will have the opportunity to work more closely with an academic discipline as you explore scholarly perspectives on surveillance

1.  Select one of four groups of academic disciplines:

  • Literature and Philosophy
  • History
  • Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • Politics and Law


2.  After joining your group, search one of the listed databases:

  • Run a search for "surveillance" or "police surveillance" (or a keyword related to your research topic) in that database, limit to "peer-reviewed" (if possible), and scan the first page or two of the results.
  • What do you notice about the number of results that are returned and the language used in the titles? What aspect of surveillance is being discussed?
  • What are the subject headings for the various scholarly articles and books in your results?  What does this tell you about how the discipline categorizes knowledge? 
  • If you wanted to try to find additional relevant results, what other search terms might you try to use?


3.   Select one article that is available full text (Click "check for full text" to see if it is available electronically.)  Read the abstract (if available) or read the introduction and conclusion.  Skim through the body of the article.  Pay careful attention to the types of sources used by the author(s).  What types of questions are asked?  What types of evidence are used in making an argument?


4.  Discuss your findings with your group members.  Working together, prepare a brief presentation for the rest of the class that addresses the following questions.

  • What kinds of questions do scholars in your type of academic discipline ask when investigating the topic of surveillance?
  • What kinds of evidence do they cite when making arguments?

Literature & Philosophy


Behavioral & Social Sciences

Politics & Law