Disciplinary is a term used to describe types of knowledge, expertise, skills, people, projects, communities, problems, challenges, studies, inquiry, approaches, and research areas that are strongly associated with academic areas of study (academic discipline) or areas of professional practice (profession). For example, the phenomenon of gravitation is strongly associated with academic discipline of physics, and so gravitation is considered to be part of the disciplinary knowledge of physics.

Closely associated terms include multidisciplinary (multidisciplinarity), interdisciplinary (interdisciplinarity), transdisciplinary (transdisciplinarity), and crossdisciplinary (crossdisciplinarity).

Disciplinary knowledge associated with academic disciplines and professions results in people who are known as expert or specialist, as opposed to generalist who may have studied liberal arts or systems theory.

Disciplinary 'silos' create the problem of communicating with experts who speak different languages. Division of labor can lead to productivity and comparative advantage in applying production or problem solving skills, but also adds to the problem of transaction costs and the problem of communication overhead that may require that some individuals develop interactional expertise and establish Trading Zones to communicate across disciplinary 'silos.'

Academic disciplines tend to coevolve with systems of professions. The academic disciplines and professions may be said to 'own' knowledge and the privilege/responsibility of validating/authorizing new knowledge extensions in particular disciplinary areas. For example, astronomers define what is and is not a planet, and so the knowledge about the status of Pluto as a planet can change.

Disciplinary refers to knowledge associated with one academic discipline or profession. Common variations include:



Multidisciplinary refers to knowledge associated with more than one existing academic discipline or profession.

A multidisciplinary community or project is made up of people from different disciplines and professions who are engaged in working together as equal stakeholders in addressing a common challenge. The key question is how well can the challenge be decomposed into nearly separable subparts, and then addressed via the distributed knowledge in the community or project team. The lack of shared vocabulary between people and communication overhead is an additional challenge in these communities and projects. However, if similar challenges of a particular type need to be repeatedly addressed, and each challenge can be properly decomposed, a multidisciplinary community can be exceptionally efficient and effective. A multidisciplinary person is a person with degrees from two or more academic disciplines, so one person can take the place of two or more people in a multidisciplinary community or project team. Over time, multidisciplinary work does not typically lead to an increase nor a decrease in the number of academic disciplines.[citation needed]


Interdisciplinary refers to new knowledge extensions that exist between or beyond existing academic disciplines or professions. The new knowledge may be claimed by members of none, one, both, or an emerging new academic discipline or profession.

An interdisciplinary community or project is made up of people from multiple disciplines and professions who are engaged in creating and applying new knowledge as they work together as equal stakeholders in addressing a common challenge. The key question is what new knowledge (of an academic discipline nature), which is outside the existing disciplines, is required to address the challenge. Aspects of the challenge cannot be addressed easily with existing distributed knowledge, and new knowledge becomes a primary subgoal of addressing the common challenge. The nature of the challenge, either its scale or complexity, requires that many people have interactional expertise to improve their efficiency working across multiple disciplines as well as within the new interdisciplinary area. An interdisciplinarary person is a person with degrees from one or more academic disciplines with additional interactional expertise in one or more additional academic disciplines, and new knowledge that is claimed by more than one discipline. Over time, interdisciplinary work can lead to an increase or a decrease in the number of academic disciplines.


Transdisciplinary refers to knowledge that exists in every individual, thus eliminating the need for discipline boundaries.

A transdisciplinary community or project is made up of transdisciplinary professionals, which is an ideal that can only be approached and not actually achieved in practice. To exist in today's society, a transdisciplinary professional would possess certification or degrees in all disciplines as well as experience in all professions. In essence, a truly transdisciplinary person contains all the distributed knowledge of the people in the community or project as their individual common knowledge. Furthermore, they exist within a community of people that share that knowledge. A transdisciplinary community is one in which common knowledge of individuals and the distributed knowledge of the collective are identical.


Crossdisciplinary refers to knowledge that explains aspects of one discipline in terms of another. Common examples of crossdisciplinary approaches are studies of the physics of music or the politics of literature.


  • R. Fagin, J. Y. Halpern, Y. Moses, and M. Y. Vardi. Reasoning about Knowledge, The MIT Press, 1995. ISBN 0-262-56200-6
  • A. Abbott. The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor, University of Chicago Press, 1988. ISBN 978-0-226-00069-5

See also


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  • disciplinary — I (educational) adjective academic, cultural, didactic, didactical, doctrinal, educative, informational, informative, instructional, instructive, paedeutic, pedagogic, pedagogical, preceptive, preceptoral, scholarly, scholastic, training,… …   Law dictionary

  • Disciplinary — Dis ci*plin*a*ry, a. [LL. disciplinarius flogging: cf. F. disciplinaire.] Pertaining to discipline; intended for discipline; corrective; belonging to a course of training. [1913 Webster] Those canons . . . were only disciplinary. Bp. Ferne. [1913 …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • disciplinary — (adj.) 1590s, from M.L. disciplinarius, from L. disciplina (see DISCIPLINE (Cf. discipline)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • disciplinary — is pronounced with stress on the first or third syllable, depending partly on its position in a sentence …   Modern English usage

  • disciplinary — [dis′ə pli ner΄ē; ] Brit [ dis′i plin΄ə ri] adj. 1. of or having to do with discipline 2. that enforces discipline by punishing or correcting …   English World dictionary

  • disciplinary — adjective Date: 1598 1. a. of or relating to discipline < disciplinary problems > b. designed to correct or punish breaches of discipline < took disciplinary action > 2. of or relating to a particular field of study < disci …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • disciplinary — [[t]dɪ̱sɪplɪnəri, AM neri[/t]] ADJ: ADJ n Disciplinary bodies or actions are concerned with making sure that people obey rules or regulations and that they are punished if they do not. He will now face a disciplinary hearing for having an affair …   English dictionary

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