Accepted paper:

Cultivating and hampering interdisciplinary meetings: the role of institutional work


Johan Munck af Rosenschöld (University of Helsinki)
Mikko Salmela (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

Interdisciplinarity has important institutional implications. We utilize the concept of 'institutional work' to explore the opposition to and support for top-down interdisciplinarity in a university undergoing major restructuring to promote interdisciplinarity.

Paper long abstract:

In the institutionalized environment of contemporary universities, research funders and upper research management have increasingly started to persuade scholars to engage in interdisciplinary endeavors. Top-down interdisciplinarity entails shaping material structures - for instance creating new organizational units and clusters - and ideational orders, such as altering institutionalized norms and social practices of scientific knowledge production to accommodate novel collaborations across disciplines and 'epistemic cultures'. In this paper, we utilize the concept of 'institutional work' to explore the opposition to and support for top-down interdisciplinarity in a context dominated by discipline-driven practices. We propose that the inclination to engage in interdisciplinary collaborations is shaped by three key forms of commitments conditioned by the institutional order: epistemic, emotional, and temporal. Institutional work, then, entails enacting various social practices aimed at shaping the three commitments in order to either advance or suppress interdisciplinary collaboration. Based on a case study of a recent restructuring of a Finnish university in order to promote interdisciplinarity, we illustrate the usefulness of our approach by highlighting how researchers' commitments are played out empirically and by exploring different strategies and actions that actors employ as they attempt to either maintain or alter existing institutions of discipline-driven research. The paper stresses the need for taking seriously the challenges for interdisciplinary research emerging through a layering of a new institutional order, which requires shaping the participants' three forms of commitment in order to be successful.

panel C11
Scientific meetings across disciplinary boundaries