Why has climate change been so difficult to address through democratic institutions and processes? The SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program established a working group to engage this question. Robert O. Keohane and Nancy L. Rosenblum, cochairs of the working group, provide a sense of the issues that have animated its work thus far: mobilization for climate change, the politics of mitigation strategies, and the often neglected role of emotion in democratic participation.
A major SSRC project of the past decade, Producing Knowledge on World Regions, has taken an in-depth look at the configuration of regional studies and internationalization in higher education. One component of the project focused specifically on the Middle East, and here program director Seteney Shami and Cynthia Miller-Idriss draw attention to key transformations and continuities in Middle East studies and how they relate to both regional dynamics and American perceptions and policies.
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.
How Interdisciplinarity Works: Field Theory and the Study of Interactions between History and Sociologyby George Steinmetz
George Steinmetz takes a critical look at how interdisciplinary fields emerge and evolve. Drawing from a larger work-in-progress on how history and sociology have intersected in Europe and the United States, he provides a case study of the meeting of these fields in France before and after World War II. Steinmetz argues interdisciplinary projects tend to be born out of subfields within different disciplines and that successful ones are developed organically among peers rather than engineered from above.
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.
In a contribution relevant to both our features on inequality and interdisciplinarity, Kim Weeden and David Grusky examine how tendencies to analyze inequality within disciplinary frames may make it difficult to address key questions about the forms that inequality takes across societies. The authors, who direct centers on inequality at Cornell and Stanford, respectively, focus principally on the assumptions and measurement strategies of economics and sociology and provide suggestions on how these fields can collaborate to provide a deeper understanding of how inequality is structured and how it changes.
Drawing on her recent book Anthropological Conversations, Caroline Brettell discusses the history of anthropology’s connections to other disciplines. Through examples of how anthropologists have collaborated with, influenced, and been influenced by historians, geographers, and psychologists, she traces intellectual exchanges that have been productive in understanding culture and difference.
Steve Fuller poses an inevitable question for this series on interdisciplinarity. He answers this question by providing an account of the proprietary and path-dependent nature of social science disciplines. One aspect of a potential solution, related to an earlier Items post by Jacobs, is to be more purposeful in the design of the criteria for research funding competitions so that scholars are able to demonstrate reading and influence across fields.
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.