Accepted Paper:

"It's not an exact science": ethnographic reflections on interdisciplinary socio-ecological research methods training  


Laura Jeffery (University of Edinburgh)
Luke Heslop (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

Interdisciplinarity is a buzzword not only in research but also in teaching. This paper draws on ethnographic reflections of an interdisciplinary research methods training field course at an ecology lab to examine interdisciplinary interactions between anthropology, geosciences, and marine biology.

Paper long abstract:

Interdisciplinarity is a buzzword not only in relation to academic research projects but also in relation to teaching, where whole degree programmes increasingly reflect interdisciplinary approaches to so-called 'wicked problems' such as global environmental change. Reflecting on our ethnographic experiences as anthropologists on interdisciplinary research methods training field courses at an ecology lab in the Maldives, this paper examines interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary interactions between anthropology, geology, and marine biology. Our paper explores how diversity within putative categories such as 'social science' and 'natural science' are obscured when anthropologists become representatives of 'social science', marine biologists become representatives of 'life science', and geologists become representatives of 'geoscience'. Teaching interdisciplinary research methods captures the complexity of Marilyn Strathern's (2005: 127) configuration of interdisciplinarity as simultaneously a 'tool' to address problems that lie athwart specialisms (a means), and a goal to be striven for (an end). Teaching interdisciplinary methods is a sin qua non for interdisciplinary research, but how differently do diverse researchers identify the 'field' and the 'challenge'? We suggest that, whilst collaborative research methods training might open up opportunities for future interdisciplinary conversations, such conversations and the networks they produce do not necessarily operate within a common theoretical understanding. The paper is an anthropological critique of how geologists, biologists, and anthropologists negotiate their respective contributions to understanding socio-ecological systems and stake out solutions to socio-ecological challenges.

Panel P112
Interdisciplinary research and nature-society interactions