Building on past contributions to our “Interdisciplinarity Now” series, Eduardo Brondizio emphasizes that interdisciplinary collaboration is fundamentally a reflexive intellectual and social process. Drawing from his own research and teaching experiences in environmental anthropology, Brondizio argues that disciplines, as domains of knowledge production, can serve as productive platforms of interdisciplinary work even as disciplinary organizational structures can be obstacles. A diversity of perspectives and approaches, even when in tension with each other, is essential for understanding fundamentally complex problems such as the environment.
researching social science practice
Based on intensive research in interdisciplinarity in the natural sciences, Laurel Smith-Doerr and Jennifer Croissant engage the question of gender differences in the practice of interdisciplinary collaboration. This is a topic that receives relatively little attention, and the authors identify mixed signals for women scientists—a catch-22 in which women are, often simultaneously, expected to work in interdisciplinary ways (partly due to gender stereotypes), while also advised that doing so is too risky for career development.
Todd Sanders and Elizabeth Hall bring our debates about interdisciplinarity to climate change, a major global issue for which the need for interdisciplinary perspectives is taken for granted. How, they ask, “do we imagine and practice 'interdisciplinarity’ to save the planet?” The authors describe and critique a range of contrasting modalities for doing interdisciplinary work on climate change and the assumptions under which they operate. Sanders and Hall also reflect on the complexities of studying interdisciplinarity when its practitioners and observers are part of the same milieu—both being “natives” in the world of research.
This 1971 archival piece by David Landes and Charles Tilly engages with some of the same issues our “Interdisciplinarity Now” series tackles, especially the history-sociology connection explored in the essay by Steinmetz. The authors report on the results of a survey of historians, which was part of a broader study of social and behavioral scientists undertaken by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, and the SSRC. Landes and Tilly discuss the obstacles to and the scholarly possibilities for historical research conducted in a social science framework, and make recommendations on how that collaboration would benefit the broader field of history, as well as social science disciplines.
In order to get beyond the rhetoric of interdisciplinarity, Erin Leahey has designed a series of research projects that address the actual impact of interdisciplinary work on scholars and institutions. In this essay, Leahey discusses how interdisciplinary research affects academic careers, the visibility of research, and scholarly productivity. She also reports on an ongoing project that explores the ways in which universities support interdisciplinary work among their faculty.
How do we recognize the interdisciplinary nature of research? In this piece, Jerry Jacobs addresses this question through thinking about the appropriate criteria for evaluating a research proposal. Instead of advocating a single scale, Jacobs argues that a proposal’s interdisciplinary qualities might be considered according to the scope of intellectual sources of the proposed project; the range of skills, methods, and interests drawn upon; and the breadth of potential impact of the research.
Harvey Graff challenges the perception that interdisciplinary scholarship is inhibited by disciplines; rather, he argues that they are inextricably connected and mutually dependent. Drawing from the insights of his recent book Undisciplining Knowledge, Graff makes the case that the practice of interdisciplinary research is productively diverse, and should be distinguished from an overarching scholarly ideology of interdisciplinarity.
When scholars collaborate across disciplines, what shapes their perceptions of that experience? Drawing from their recent research on a range of interdisciplinary networks, Lamont, Boix-Mansilla and Sato find that cognitive and intellectual payoffs tell only part of the story. Emotional and social dimensions to collaboration intertwine with the cognitive in complex ways, while the research environment established by funders creates a frame within which participants experience a sense of achievement across disciplinary divides.