A Metadisciplinary Approach to Asian Medicine

(Part II in the “Meta Approaches to Asian Medicine” series)

Hey, we’re different but we can still hang out together!

Interdisciplinarity has failed as a model for collaboration in the study of Asian medicine. Here, I propose the new model of “metadisciplinarity” as a means of bringing people together in more productive and more generative ways.

In my last post, “A Metamodern Approach to Asian Medicine,” I discussed a major communication problem within the study of traditional Asian medicine. I outlined the three major groups that dominate this field: the distinct and occasionally overlapping social groups of practitioners, scientists, and academic scholars. I introduced the epistemes or worldviews each group subscribes to, which I called “traditionalist,” “modernist,” and “postmodernist.” I described the stereotypes the proponents of each episteme have of one another, and the disciplinary rules and norms that are used to maintain and police the boundaries between them. I finished up with a proposal for how we can achieve more fruitful and more constructive co-existence, based on some ideas drawn from the theory of “oscillatory metamodernism,” as recently developed by scholars of aesthetics and religious studies.

Different types of collaborations

Before discussing the failure of interdisciplinarity, let me first define how I use this term, and related words, so that we’re all on the same page:

The failure of interdisciplinarity

It is important for me to distinguish these different terms in order to clearly state what I see as the problem. In the field of Asian medicine, interdisciplinarity (and, more recently, its variant transdisciplinarity) has been tasked with bridging the gaps between the traditional, the modern, and the postmodern. It has been touted as the tool or method by which these three epistemes will finally be combined together, and their adherents finally reconciled. The much hoped-for end is an “integrative” or “integrated” approach, which will be a synthesis of the most beneficial perspectives of all three and which will unlock all sorts of utopian health outcomes.

Tu Youyou (right) in the 1950s. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


If we are interested in cross-epistemological dialogue — and, indeed, I recognize that not all of us may be — my proposal is not going to be that we get better at interdisciplinarity. Given our track record, I think interdisciplinary collaborations are largely destined to continue to fail. Rather, I am proposing an altogether new framework for cross-epistemological collaboration that I will call “metadisciplinarity.” If you have read the previous post you will recognize that this new framework draws from the theory of oscillatory metamodernism I discussed there. Metadisciplinarity is a set of specific practices that can help to bring us together in a more productive and generative conversation. To use the metaphor from that essay, you could say that it can help point the way beyond awkwardness and contentiousness, toward the joyous Carnaval-like atmosphere of metamodern oscillation.

New possibilities

These three shifts — welcoming polyperspectivalism, focusing on collective meaning-making, and a focus on explaining and sharing disciplinary tools — take us away from policing, defending, and strengthening the epistemic divides that keep us separated from one another, and instead provide a framework for entering into productive dialogue and collaboration across disciplines and across epistemes. But we must resist the impulse to make metadisciplinarity into a new systematization. Remember, oscillatory metamodernism is not about integration, it’s not about organizing everything into some kind of stable hierarchy, and it’s not about splitting the differences between us. Likewise, a metadisciplinary collaboration is not about producing some kind of harmonious stasis. In fact, if a collaboration finds itself in a peaceful stasis, it’s a sign that it’s not metadisciplinary enough! This is not about finding our common ground, but rather finding joy and making meaning in the cacophonous, unstable juxtaposition of incommensurable viewpoints.

Chakra chart attributed to traditional Thai medicine, which was actually invented by Aśokananda (a German yoga teacher) in the 1990s.

This post is part of a series:

  1. A Metamodern Approach to Asian Medicine
  2. A Metadisciplinary Approach to Asian Medicine
  3. A Metamorphic Approach to Asian Medicine
  4. A Polyperspectival Asian Medicine Practice

Seeking larger perspectives that balance being an academic with being human. By scholar of Asian medicine and Buddhism, Pierce Salguero (piercesalguero.com).