Uniformitarianism in Earth Sciences

What’s in a uniform? Other than, typically, pants, uniforms consist of invariability. They’re designed to make people look similar to one another. They’re unchanging and static, and aside from small changes in the details of uniforms such as the additions of buttons or collars, uniforms have been unchanging for a long time.

In science, specifically geology, there exists a sense of uniformitarianism, similar to that of clothing. Repko has identified this in his epistemological dissection of the disciplines (106). In geology, it’s theorized that the geological processes that exist today have been acting the same way since the beginning of time. Neat stuff.

So, how is this at all relevant to interdisciplinary studies? Well, uniformitarianism is a very specific concept that’s entirely relevant to Earth Sciences, and not so transferrable to other disciplines such as English or Mathematics. Upon reading this from Repko, I was a little discouraged at the lack of translatability of this concept to other disciplines. Of course I understand that geological uniformitarianism is a very small and specific concept in the sciences, but I was left with a hollow feeling that combining disciplines (what I’m doing for my degree) would leave me struggling to blend them.

IMG_6433After this confusion, I stepped back for a second and realized what Repko was doing; he was demonstrating the concept of epistemology. He was explaining and exemplifying what differs from field to field. As an interdisciplinarian, a part of me wants to deny that the disciplines I’m combining differ that strongly from field to field, because it makes my justification a little weaker for combining them. However, its these differences that should be highlighted. I shouldn’t be worried about trying to seamlessly blend these disciplines because its the unique components of each that will make my degree strong.

(The above photo is of a mesa of sandstone in Arizona – a rock structure whose geological processes are identical to those from thousands of years ago).

So, I can celebrate uniformitarianism as its own, unique concept. There’s no need to find a way to translate that exactly or relate it perfectly to other disciplines. Repko helped me understand ways to isolate these unique concepts in each discipline, allowing me to revel in their differences.


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One thought on “Uniformitarianism in Earth Sciences

  1. A time for integration of methods and concepts, and a time for more distinct disciplinary approaches. I love how you demonstrate that interdisciplinarians can move around the continuum from full integration to a valuing of disciplinary expertise. It’s all about recognizing where you’re coming from and what you need. This is truly an excellent contribution! Well done.


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