Multidisciplinary approaches, disciplinary boundaries, and institutional response in American higher education: A history of international relations as a field of study

Frank Plantan, University of Pennsylvania


International Relations as a field of study must be understood in the changing context of several interacting and interlocking dynamics in the institutional and disciplinary structure of American colleges and universities. Theoretical development and scholarship pertaining to the subject matter has profoundly shaped and affected the outcomes of a series of intellectual debates concerning disciplinary influences on a field characterized by interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches. Disciplines have long struggled with the dilemma of the need for specialization to advance professionalization and knowledge, producing subfields that are often inherently cross-disciplinary, rendering the boundaries of the discipline amorphous. The developments that give rise to a proliferation of subfields in a discipline, also produced an expansion of interdisciplinary academic programs and research. Ironically, the latter have frequently been challenged and critiqued as programs lacking coherence or focus by adherents of particular disciplinary perspectives. Organizationally, such differences result in disciplinary territoriality within the university, manifested by interpersonal rivalries, departmental and bureaucratic politics within the university. This study reviews the status of international relations in the context of traditional social science disciplines. It focuses on the disciplinary and professional orientations and identities of scholars who shaped the development of international relations, pro and con. But its main focus is on the internal decision-making, organizational processes, and bureaucratic politics within colleges and universities affecting the organization and study of international relations. These events are examined through a case study of the Graduate International Relations Program at the University of Pennsylvania, (1951–1984). It is a hypothesis of this study that the uncertain organizational existence of interdisciplinary programs within universities has affected hiring, promotion and tenure decisions, as well as the number and structure of degree programs. This study endeavors to construct a history of the field that bridges research and teaching to the administrative and curricular decisions that shape the organization of international relations in the modern American university.

Subject Area

Higher education|Social studies education|International law|International relations|Education history

Recommended Citation

Plantan, Frank, "Multidisciplinary approaches, disciplinary boundaries, and institutional response in American higher education: A history of international relations as a field of study" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3043939.