When our committee settled on "innovation," I wasn't really seeing how "innovation" was anything more than a tool to promote the idea of a linear path of progress that pushes forward in attempts to fulfill mainstream definitions of success, weaving--and sometimes challenging--myths along the way.
But, the theme of innovation nagged at the back of my brain. It got me thinking, and, ultimately this is the point of having an academic theme. Taking innovation out of these obvious contexts of science, technology, and business only makes room for further innovation. Somewhat obviously, innovation in the arts and humanities is coveted. We celebrate innovative filmmakers, innovative artists, innovative writers, innovative thinkers.
I never think about my work as being innovative; I think about it being flexible, dynamic, engaging, challenging, tireless. But seeking new ways of looking at old ideas is certainly innovative (as James Cook confirms for me in his framing of the theme at Convocation), and this is at the heart of my interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship. Interdisciplinary studies are studies in innovation, finding connections in spaces where strict boundaries are drawn, creating new methods and new forms of knowledge.
The innovation theme invites us to think about what we teach and how we teach it, and part of the point of such a theme is to approach it from a variety of angles. A quick search reveals ways of teaching innovation that coalesce with interdisciplinary approaches, like this Mind/Shift list of ways to teach innovation.
While there is a long list of innovative pedagogies, and maybe even a short list of innovative technologies, at play in my teaching, what is most immediately on my mind are my ongoing explorations of fitness in humanities and interdisciplinary contexts. In our AME/WGS 306: American Fitness class this fall, we will consider fitness in a variety of texts and contexts and through an interdisciplinary lens.
We expect to see fitness as a topic in the sciences. Bodies are measurable. Time, distance, expenditure are measurable. And in the social sciences--attitudes, behaviors, and demographics are measurable and comparable and surveys and interviews provide qualitative analyses. Interdisciplinary fields like women's studies considers strong women and women who break gender norms in sports and physical education as well as the ways in which gender is portrayed in magazines, for instance. These approaches produce important insights and a foundation for innovation.
Innovations in fitness are often met with the rigid resistance of minds and bodies trained in certain kinds of movement--linear, purposeful, exacting. People drawn to the linear, competitive aspects of running might be threatened by the choreography and hip movements of a Zumba class. People drawn to dance might resist the regimented movements of weight training or the aggressive nature of kickboxing.
Innovations in scholarship meet similar kinds of resistance. Interdisciplinary inquiry threatens definable boxes and known quantities. Certainly Luddites push back against innovations in technology, ethicists push back against innovations in science, activists push back against innovation in business. When innovation meets at the intersection of fitness and academia, push back is often stillness, a lack of engagement, a quiet anger, a refusal or inability to embrace change let alone the possibility of transformation.
I detail, analyze, and extrapolate many of these fitness innovations in my book, Women and Fitness in American Culture. I also continue to highlight the work of my colleagues in this field through resources on my culture and movement website and features on my blog. My students' blogs and projects this fall will help to make this class--and interdisciplinary inquiries in the realm of fitness--more dynamic and innovative. Those interested in such innovations can join our Google+ Community.
My initially limited view of innovation in business, science, and technology left me with an underdeveloped idea of what innovation means. Innovation challenges norms, disrupts comforts, and shapes expectations. Innovation is now a conscious hammer in my toolbox and I look forward to sharing this tool with my students this fall.