I’m all for insisting on intersectionality. But there are multiple ways to go about integrating ideas: some redundant, some genuinely translational, some that lead to mutual growth.
Reflect for a moment on the oft-used designer’s tool, the Venn Diagram. Two thematic areas find common ground at their respective edges. Fringe focus areas bring together the necessary insider-outsiders: those thinkers with the fluency to engage serious classical scholars in their fields but with a personal pull towards the edges, an urge to step outside of their own fluency and engage with new vocabularies and sets of expertise. They meet each other at the edges. An artist exploring eye gaze and a neuroscientists exploring theory of mind realize they’re circling the same drain, and decide to slip in together.
This sort of thinking can empower fringe thinkers, provide them with collaborators and interlocutors. But the job of a provocateur, a bricoloeur, an edge-thinker, can’t end in overlapping space. The Venn Diagram suggests the final goal of a collaboration is to agree on ideas already within each other’s purview, to validate one another’s vocabulary.
I’d like to live instead within a pyramidal model for intersectional work. The issue in interdisciplinary collaboration is one of making meeting points based not only on breadth (fringe intersections) but depth. Where one discipline gets deeply niche, becomes atomized in gazing at atoms, it suddenly meets another at its broadest, its impetus and inquiry, and begins to ask new questions. The two form the foundation for new inquiry built on top of their collaboration: where broad meets niche, where fringe meets focus, where answers meet questions, novel work begins.
This is not working in overlapping territory. It is entering new space together. It is not quibbling over jargon but opening up space without previous owners. Building layers of foundation so we are allowed distance when we are too focused to see our collaborators, and allowing focus when we are too broad to see our opportunities.