Accepted paper:

'Doing' interdisciplinarity - experiences of researchers in urban sustainability


Ashley Lewis (University of Nottingham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws from the ethnographic study of an interdisciplinary project that incorporates researchers from both from the natural and social sciences. The focus is on how researchers create and work toward the goal and expectation of 'interdisciplinary collaboration'.

Paper long abstract:

Interdisciplinary project approaches are seeing an increase in support from funding organisations, as interdisciplinarity comes with the promise of creating more 'holistic' knowledge (Yarime et. al., 2012) that addresses the inherent limitations that exist within disciplines to address complex societal problems such as sustainability and public health.

Existing studies of interdisciplinary research focus on the challenges experienced by the researchers involved, including the unanticipated length of time it takes to grasp foreign concepts (Clark et. al., 2017) and the communication barriers that prevent shared understanding (Lyall and Fletcher, 2013). This study of interdisciplinary research takes an ethnographic approach and follows a group of researchers at the University of Nottingham. A combination of engineers, physicists, sociologists, policy researchers and computer scientists (to name a few) are brought together to integrate their respective knowledge and expertise to bear on better understanding the functioning of complex urban systems and how this can be improved upon from social, economic and environmental sustainability perspectives.

In addition to acknowledging the aforementioned challenges, this project explores the different types of 'boundary work' that takes place in a project where researchers are directly confronted with practitioners from other disciplines, methodological frameworks and ontological differences. The project also investigates the expectation of 'achieving' interdisciplinarity as a goal in and of itself and how this imagined 'gold standard' of interdisciplinary working - wherein the whole is hoped to be greater than the sum of its parts - is articulated and renegotiated over the course of an interdisciplinary project.

panel C11
Scientific meetings across disciplinary boundaries