(C11)
Scientific meetings across disciplinary boundaries
Location Frankland Colloquium (Faraday Complex)
Date and Start Time 25 Jul, 2018 at 13:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Johan Munck af Rosenschöld (University of Helsinki) email
  • Miles MacLeod (University of Twente) email

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Short abstract

The aim of this panel is to explore the concept of 'meeting' in interdisciplinary endeavors. By employing the concept, the panel explores 'how' interdisciplinarity is arranged and practiced, 'who' participates in such activities, and 'what' are the outcomes of interdisciplinary collaborations.

Long abstract

Interdisciplinarity has become a central strategy in research policy as well as practice in scientific ventures. Stakes are high for interdisciplinarity; it is supposed to address, among other things, ostensible knowledge silos in universities (Petts et al. 2008), the accountability 'gap' of science (Nowotny et al. 2003), and complex sustainability challenges (Klein 2004). A defining trait of interdisciplinarity is knowledge integration; interdisciplinarity entails "bridging and confronting the prevailing disciplinary approaches" (Huutoniemi et al. 2010, p.80) through collaboration between different epistemologies, disciplines, and extra-academic actors. Interdisciplinarity thus highlights the tensions and opportunities that arise as different knowledge systems are integrated.

The aim of this panel is to explore the concept of 'meeting' in interdisciplinary endeavors. In its broadest sense, meeting can be conceived as the process of conjoining and assembling disciplines and knowledges. More concretely, a meeting can be conceived as a temporally distinct micro-level event where knowledge is integrated, contested, and made sense of (cf. Jarzabkowski & Seidl 2008). The research project meeting is often where interdisciplinarity "happens", through allocation of resources and tasks as well as dissemination of results. The concept of meeting thus provides an opportunity to examine 'how' interdisciplinarity is arranged and practiced, 'who' participates in such activities, and 'what' are the outcomes of knowledge integration.

We look forward to receiving both empirical and theoretical papers that address meetings (in all meanings of the word) in interdisciplinary research from various theoretical and disciplinary perspectives.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Meeting of the minds. Or: on building walls instead of bridges

Author: Anna-Lena Berscheid (University of Paderborn) email
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Short abstract

Interdisciplinary meetings do not always turn out successfully. In this contribution, I try to make sense of why and how such meetings sometimes lead to establish new boundaries between disciplines instead of integrate knowledge. Furthermore, I seek to reflect about possible STS-interventions.

Long abstract

According to dictionary.com, a meeting is "the act of coming together", possibly leading to the formation of a "union". However, the term also refers to a "hostile encounter". Hence, it seems that the substantial outcome of a (interdisciplinary) meeting depends on its participants' attitudes and expectations as well as their willingness for and the manner of interaction with the others.

In this contribution, I want to conceptualize interdisciplinary meetings not only in a spatial sense or as "formal discussions" (see dictionary.com), I also want to think about meetings as encounters where different "thought styles" (Fleck 1980 [1935]) and disciplinary traditions come (and sometimes even clash) together. Drawing on material collected via participant observation within an explicitly interdisciplinary graduate school, I want to especially make sense of those moments in meetings when frictions arise. How and why do participants draw (new) boundaries or build even 'enemy camps'? To that end, I want to draw on the analytical concepts of boundary work and the ambivalence of scientists (e.g. Gieryn 1983; 1995), epistemic living spaces (Felt 2012) and othering (e. g. Brons 2015). As most literature on interdisciplinarity focuses on either conceptual questions or stories of success, I consider it fruitful to also focus on those moments where interdisciplinary exchange - often thought of as the 'holy grail' in e.g. sustainability research - turns out to be hard work. Finally, I also want to 'use' the panel to discuss possible ways of (in-situ) intervention for us as STS-researchers.

Imaginary friends - interdisciplinarity and digitalization as two imaginaries covering each other's back in times of uncertainty

Author: Silvio Suckow (WZB Berlin Social Science Center) email
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Short abstract

Based on expert interviews with PIs of a newly founded interdisciplinary institute on digital society this paper shows how scientists describe the two-year process of grant application. Therefore the PIs are cross-referencing the two imaginaries to enclose conflicts and legitimize the project.

Long abstract

In research organizations all over the world interdisciplinarity and digitalization 'meet' to create scientific knowledge for digital futures. Hopes of politics are high towards the digitalization and the conjunction of different areas of society (e.g. energy and transport sector) as means for solving current 'grand challenges'.

Based on expert interviews with PIs of a newly founded interdisciplinary institute on digital society in Berlin (Weizenbaum Institute) this paper shows how scientists describe the two-year process of establishing an interdisciplinary research agenda for digitalization. These scientists had to integrate political expectations, meet the demands of the scientific selection committee and conjunct the different disciplines into reasonable working entities to get funded.

This paper suggests using the analytical approach of imaginaries (Jasanoff / Kim 2015) to disclose the influence of the two imaginaries interdisciplinarity ('how it should be done') and digitalization ('for what it should be done') on this process.

Participating scientists involved in creating the grant application made use of one imaginary to convincingly illustrate how they will 'do' the other imaginary. This can be shown as a two-way street in the reasoning of the PIs and is proposed to be called 'imaginary friends'. The imaginary friends underpin each other in areas of uncertain knowledge. They are used by the PIs to create cohesion for the interdisciplinary group of researchers applying for funding and to legitimize the course of actions to the outside. The findings show how the cross reference of the two imaginaries can enclose conflicts under terms of uncertainty.

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Cultivating and hampering interdisciplinary meetings: the role of institutional work

Authors: Johan Munck af Rosenschöld (University of Helsinki) email
Mikko Salmela (University of Helsinki) email
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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.

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.

'Doing' interdisciplinarity - experiences of researchers in urban sustainability

Author: Ashley Lewis (University of Nottingham) email
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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'.

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.

Interdisciplinary research in law and forensic science: from 'silos' to systems.

Author: Karen Richmond (University of Dundee / European Graduate School) email
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Short abstract

This paper considers the limitations of subsisting theoreties, which characterize the tensions between law and science as a negotiation between contesting fields. Drawing on empirical research into DNA profiling, this paper proposes an alternate, autopoietic model of interdisciplinary co-production.

Long abstract

Previous commentators have tended to view law and forensic science as operating in discrete silos. The research paradigm has therefore tended to concentrate on the negotiations between the two professions, the allocation of epistemic responsibility, the performance of 'boundary work', or the temporary creation of 'hybrid sets'. Lawless and Williams, for example, are typical in positing that the legal and forensic fields 'combine in a mutually constitutive relationship to (in)form a mode of production of scientific commodities purchased by the police in support of criminal justice objectives.'

These approaches tend to be founded on a belief that improved communication, and a shared understanding of the respective capabilities, and needs, of both forensic science and criminal justice, may enhance the co-production of knowledge. However, the results of empirical research into the UK's streamlined forensic reporting scheme appear to confound this 'contest and communication' narrative. SFR signals an almost complete co-option of scientific processes by the criminal justice system, the concomitant loss of interpretative forensic expertise, and the avoidance of the allocation of epistemic responsibility. It is argued that this instrumental approach to forensic reporting is a result of the disruption, and restructuring, of the forensic profession. Further, that the application of legal norms and rationality to forensic science may be better understood through the lens of legal autopoiesis, and the structural coupling of competing subsystems. The presentation closes by considering the implications across other areas of STS research.

Pursuing knowledge integration between modernist and reflexive cultures: lessons learned from two organised spaces for epistemic alignment

Authors: Eva-Maria Kunseler (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) email
Lisa Verwoerd (Athena Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) email
Barbara Regeer (Athena Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) email
Femke Verwest (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) email
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Short abstract

Meetings within a Community of Practice and an interdisciplinary research team trigger knowledge integration when active reflection on epistemic cultures is combined with joint research efforts.

Long abstract

The core challenge of inter,- and transdisciplinarity is to generate alignment of epistemic cultures. We empirically studied how epistemic alignment is organised within a public knowledge organisation that struggles to adopt a reflexive tradition of knowledge production (characterized by deliberative policy analysis) against a prevailing modernist tradition (characterized by technical-rational policy analysis). The two organised spaces for epistemic alignment under study are: a Community of Practice (CoP) on expert advice in complex multi-level governance settings and an interdisciplinary research team with high transdisciplinary aspirations. Within these settings we conducted reflexive monitoring of the learning processes (CoP case) and implemented transdisciplinary methods via trainings and reflection sessions (research team case). In our paper we discuss the set-up of our activities and present the (preliminary) learning outcomes.

Our preliminary findings indicate that exchange of practical examples of knowledge integration within the CoP triggers active debate on the epistemic assumptions underneath technical expert-driven and deliberative policy approaches. Via discussion and reflection, the CoP helps to create alignment between members who are inclined to inform their approaches by the modernist tradition, and those familiar with reflexive approaches. Yet, our other case reveals that, while discussion and reflection are elemental, these are insufficient to make knowledge integration happen for real. It requires joint research efforts, such as joint case selection and shared stakeholder meetings to achieve integration. However, for the team to embed integration during the research process, considering time pressure and disciplinary defaults, an active inter,- and transdisciplinary strategy remains necessary.

Serious yet playful: the benefits of play when social scientists and synthetic biologists meet

Authors: Carmen McLeod (University of Nottingham) email
Stevienna de Saille (University of Sheffield) email
Brigitte Nerlich (University of Nottigham) email
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Short abstract

This paper outlines interdisciplinary workshops that were devised using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, involving social scientists and synthetic biologists. We argue that opportunities for playfulness during interdisciplinary encounters can enable novel insights and understanding across disciplinary divides.

Long abstract

This paper outlines interdisciplinary meetings between social scientists working in the area of synthetic biology. Encounters between social scientists and synthetic biologists can be fraught (e.g. Rabinow & Bennett (2012). There are also many potential 'roles' that might be ascribed to social science work within this space (Balmer et al., 2015). Recently, synthetic biology has also provoked experimental collaborations where art and science can meet (e.g. Calvert & Schyfter, 2017). We are interested in how interdisciplinary meetings associated with synthetic biology can become opportunities for fruitful playfulness. We describe workshops that were devised using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) to enable synthetic biologists to explore the concept of risk in their work. Using the LSP methodology allowed participants to visualise and verbalise a variety of representations about science, responsibility and creative mitigation of risk. Some examples were concrete and well-known to laboratory bench workers, and some were more hidden and abstract related to institutions, incentives and power. Overall, our analysis demonstrated that the LSP format gave scientists the opportunity to 'play out' sometimes surprising visions of risks and responsibilities through constructing verbal and visual metaphors. These moments of play also provided novel insights into the reality of their working lives. Additionally, these meetings provided an opportunity for social scientists to think beyond stereotypes and narrow disciplinary expectations. We argue that providing opportunities for playfulness within interdisciplinary spaces such as these, can enable both "bridging and confronting" (Huutoniemi et al., 2010) of different disciplinary epistemologies and approaches.

To collaborate interdisciplinarily but work disciplinarily? Trading zone and the cognitive dynamics of interdisciplinary collaboration

Author: Lianghao Dai (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) email
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Short abstract

This paper investigates a key tension between working independently and interdependently in interdisciplinary teams. A clear division of labor that turns research problems that require heterogeneous academic expertise partially into homogeneous questions using single disciplinary means is found.

Long abstract

This paper investigates a key tension in interdisciplinary collaborative research, i.e., the tension between working independently with discipline-bounded expertise and working interdependently in a collaborative team with heterogeneous knowledge and methods in order to solve a common research question. Based on a case study of a huge research group of biologists, statisticians and physicists in a German university, this paper focuses on the mechanism of research collaboration that involves not only established scholars but also junior researchers (e.g. doctoral students and junior post-docs). By using cognitive mapping method and by treating the quadruple-people interaction (consisting of one advanced researcher and one junior researcher for each of the two participating disciplines) as a minimum ideal type, this research analyzes three distinct ways of interpersonal interactive. It is found that the dynamics of these interactions can be regarded as a 'trading zone', in which resources, time and knowledge are being exchanged and integrated. In such a zone, the epistemological and theoretical discussions between advanced researchers are clearly separated from the technological and specific operations between junior researchers. Such a clear division of labor has been found as a key to unlocking the interdisciplinary tension. In so doing, a difficult research problem that requires heterogeneous academic expertise can be partially turned into a set of simplified and homogeneous questions using single disciplinary means. Thus the transaction costs in the interdisciplinary collaboration have been successfully decreased.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.