The importance of a multi-disciplinary approach for understanding crucial issues is well-established both at academic and policy levels. Nevertheless we need to ask, despite the need for this being well-established, whether this is being neglected frequently in public discourse, and perhaps to a lesser extent, even at policy and academic levels?

One reason for this unintentional neglect is that public discourse and , to some extent even policy, are being influenced a lot by what appears in media. This is generally driven by what is more in news at a particular time, and a multi-disciplinary approach is likely to get easily neglected in this. Secondly, in academic fields there is more and more specialization. This is understandable to some extent, but this should have been accompanied by renewed emphasis on keeping in mind multi-disciplinary aspects as well. Perhaps this has not taken place to the extent needed.

There can be a debate on this and related aspects, but generally speaking , the need for a more multi-disciplinary approach for a better understanding of several important issues, and for policy based on this, is likely to be widely appreciated.

To take just one example, let us take the example of an issue that has attracted much concern in recent days—the issue of nutrition. This is influenced of course by the state of various nutrition schemes, the adequacy of budget allocation for these schemes, the state of their functioning, the involvement of people in this and related aspects. Another important factor is — to what extent is food denied to many in villages, where food is produced, because they do not have any farmland at all? To what extent is land inequality a cause of hunger and malnutrition? Then there is the even more important consideration of how many per cent of people have the necessary income to afford a nutritionally balanced diet? To what extent is the non-payment of a fair wage responsible for this?

Even among those sections who have this capacity, how many are not utilizing this properly due to liquor addiction ( or other substance abuse ) by men? To what extent is this issue a question of gender disparity as women are generally very keen to check liquor consumption but their voice may not be heard in a situation of male dominance? In a situation of gender disparity, to what extent is food distributed unequally on gender basis in an overall situation of food scarcity ( particularly in terms  of distribution of more nutrition rich food)  in a household?

To what extent is food production or agriculture  system responsive to growing the crops most needed for meeting nutrition needs of a society?  To what extent is the food processing and trade system responsive to this? In food production and processing is adequate consideration being given to food safety and to retaining nutrition content of naturally produced food? Is adequate importance being given to soil health, water conservation and various sustainability aspects? Is it ensured that food available in market and in ration shops safe and healthy? How important is the role of a public distribution system, and to what extent it meets needs of a balanced nutrition? To what extent is the availability of raw food ( fresh plucked food or forest food )  diminishing in providing nutrition?

The above  is only a partial list of the various factors which influence nutrition. Many of these factors have experienced fast changes in recent decades in India. To understand nutrition in India  we need to comprehensively understand the changing role of all these factors. Clearly this calls for a highly multi-disciplinary approach.

This is just one example. The need for a more multi-disciplinary approach is clearly evident in the context of most important issues.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.


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One Comment

  1. Not just a multidisciplinary approach with a series of subject matter experts! Because by definition they are ignorant of the other subjects. One needs to despecialise one’s vision. That means one has to list gaps in knowledge not asked by the specialists and go about designing around our ignorance.. That is only possible going above the frameworks of the specialists. In modern civilization that crucial despecialisation is absent. Is there money in it? If there is none, then the gaps are left dry till nature reacts in a fashion which changes the very baseline known so far to the specialists. A live example is the COVID 19 pandemic. Even though the solution is readily available by imitating nature beyond understanding(example: arsenicum album 200c), the specialists in the society of specialists have chosen to fight nature by producing by luck a vaccine, but which would fail because of unknowable interconnections within nature. See Kurt Goedel and his theory of sets. And the Bhagavad Gita which shows the way to live by recogniising truth and designing a way of life around the unknowable.
    See Ramaswami Ashok Kumar. 2020. PERFECT DESIGNS. BlogSpot.