Skip to Main Content

GQS 320: Queerly Scientific

Interdisciplinary Inquiry

Your research question may invite analysis from more than one academic discipline. Yet what is an academic discipline?  Although definitions vary, most scholars agree that an academic discipline shares the following characteristics:

  • A specific focus of study;
  • A specific research methodology;
  • An accumulated body of knowledge that all practitioners share;
  • Theories or concepts that help organize the shared body of knowledge;
  • Specific vocabulary used to describe the shared knowledge;
  • Usually, the discipline is taught in colleges and universities;
  • New disciplines emerge when ruptures, disagreements, or new information can no longer be contained within the "old" discipline.

What do you think are the advantages of academic disciplines? Might there be any disadvantages?

Most academic disciplines have one or more subject databases that index and disseminate scholarly work within that discipline. It is impossible to understate how important it is to search disciplinary databases when doing research. (In the medical sciences, for example, failure to search the relevant databases prior to a clinical trial is malpractice and can result in severe federal sanctions.)

At Collins Library, the main subject databases for each academic discipline taught at the university can be found under the "Articles" page on each subject guide.

Developing an Interdisciplinary Search Strategy

What are Subject Headings?

A controlled vocabulary used to make sure that when researchers search databases for their disciplines, their searches are comprehensive. When an article is added to a database, it is tagged with specific subject headings, so that searchers don't need to worry about synonyms when searching. For example, tagging all articles about heart attacks with the term "Myocardial Infarction" can ensure that when you search using that term, you're also finding articles that use synonyms like "Heart Attack", "Myocardial Infarct", and "Cardiovascular Stroke". These terms can also be placed in a hierarchy, so that searchers can discover narrower terms, such as "Anterior Wall Myocardial Infarction", or broader terms like "Heart Diseases".


When looking up subject headings, these are the main parts I want you to focus on:

  • Preferred Term: The name of the subject heading, and how the thesaurus prefers to refer to it.
  • Scope Notes: A definition of the term.
  • Entry Term / Use For / Variants: Synonyms of the term, or other narrower terms that redirect here because they don't have their own entry.
  • Narrower terms: Other terms that are more specific examples of the current term.
  • Broader terms: Other terms of which the current term is a more specific example.
  • Related terms / See also: Other terms that are connected to the current term, but not in the "X is an example of Y" hierarchy

Queering Controlled Vocabularies

I want you to look at the questions and disciplines you've just gathered, and do the following:

  1. Take a look at the databases we offer in the "articles" tab and our "A-Z list of databases" and map them to the disciplines you've just identified
  2. Use your questions and topics to identify possible subject headings to search for in these databases' controlled vocabularies
  3. See if those subject headings exist, and record any that might be useful in your searching.
  4. Grade the controlled vocabulary's treatment of your topic through its subject headings from A to F. Think about:
    • Is the level of specificity appropriate for the discipline?
    • Are the "Use for" terms appropriate?
    • Are there any problematic hierarchies?
    • Are the "scope notes" clear?
    • Are the "related subjects" actually related, and are there any that are missing?
  5. Use these subject headings to search the databases for your topics (later)

Example - Prostitution

Database and Controlled Vocabulary Subject terms found

Anything missing? Evidence of bias? Anything problematic?

Final Grade Search strategy

Prostitution, Sex work, brothels, female/male/lesbian/transgender prostitution, gay for pay, escort services, prostitute's clients.

LGBTQ+ sex workers, many narrower terms

No scope notes for "Prostitution"

No negative related terms - exploitation, human trafficking, etc.

Neutral view on prostitution.

PubMed (Medical Subject Headings) Sex Work, Sex workers,

Doesn't separate sex work and prostitution. Doesn't separate sex workers and sex worker clients.

Sex Work is under "Social Problems"

Library of Congress (LCSH) Prostitution, sex work, child prostitution, male prostitution, brothels, pimps, red-light districts, sex crimes

No scope notes for prostitution

Female prostitution is a "use for" term, which implies a default.

ProQuest Sociology Prostitution, Human trafficking, Pimps, Sex crimes, Sexual behavior, Sex industry

No narrower terms

No scope notes for prostitution

A lot of the related terms are negative.

Broader terms are crime and sex crimes


SOCIndex: Sex work, SEX industry, VICTIMLESS crimes, MALE sex work, SACRED prostitution, SOCIAL aspects of sex work, TRANSACTIONAL sex, BROTHELS, SEX crimes, SEX workers

Female prostitution as default

Victimless crime

White slavery?