By Andi Hess
Would it be helpful to identify two distinct forms of interdisciplinary scholarship ― 1) individual interdisciplinarity and 2) interdisciplinary dialogue and team science ― and to make this distinction explicit in the literature? What are the benefits and challenges of each? Are a different set of resources and methods required to achieve effective interdisciplinary scholarship?
As integration scientists are aware, there are many analyses of appropriate methods for conducting interdisciplinary work. Each has its own benefits and challenges, and each requires a different set of resources and methods for achieving effective interdisciplinary scholarship.
The first kind of interdisciplinary work, individual interdisciplinary scholarship, is what we commonly teach our students to do. It is the kind of work you do on your own by utilizing insights from a variety of disciplinary sources. In many ways this type of study is easier to engage with. You can read widely and pursue a variety of disciplinary perspectives in many sets of literature and integrate from them those concepts, methods, and insights that are useful for your particular work. This work doesn’t depend on team dynamics, schedules, or competing priorities. It doesn’t fall prey to the incommensurability issue, because what you understand from a piece of scholarship cannot be incommensurable with what you already know.
There are, of course, other challenges. Lack of depth of knowledge in relevant fields can result in misunderstanding the work being drawn upon. It is also difficult to assess which disciplinary sources might be worth investigating when you are unfamiliar with which sources are available and what each might contain.
Many of the resources for teaching interdisciplinary scholarship address these issues.
Interdisciplinary dialogue and team science
Engaging in an interdisciplinary dialogue or an interdisciplinary team project is very different from the type of research we do on our own. The goal of any dialogue is to have a conversation where members both contribute their own perspectives and come to understand the perspectives of others. This is important on its own and also forms a key part of team science, which is even more complicated as the team works to achieve project goals.
By including a variety of expert disciplinary perspectives in a collaborative team environment, team scientists are not subject to the same challenge with depth of knowledge as individual scholars. Instead, the challenge becomes effectively utilizing the full range of knowledge available on the team.
Interdisciplinary teams face the challenges that all teams face, from team dynamics issues to leadership and project management concerns. They also face the special set of incommensurability issues that arise specifically from the variety of ways knowledge is classified and siloed in disciplinary settings. These include specialized jargon and skill sets, as well as differences in epistemological constructs and scientific values. In addition, teams often face challenges arising from the variety of disciplinary and institutional incentive structures; what counts highly for one member of the team may mean little for another.
Making the distinction explicit
The resources and methods required to address each type of interdisciplinary work are different, yet it is rare for the different kinds of interdisciplinarity to be distinguished. There are many useful resources for each type of interdisciplinary work, but, because they are not specifically linked to the type of interdiscipliarity, confusion arises. Those new to interdisciplinary scholarship would benefit from being more aware of the methods that work best for each type.
What do you think about the value of clearly distinguishing these two kinds of interdisciplinarity? I have listed key resources for each kind below. Are there others that you would add?
Resources for individual interdisciplinarity
Menken, S. and Keestra, M. (2016). An Introduction to Interdisciplinary Research: Theory and Practice. Amsterdam University Press: Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Repko, A. F. and Szostak, R. (2017). Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory. 3rd ed. Sage: Thousand Oaks, California, United States of America.
Repko, A. F., Szostak, R. and Buchberger, M. P. (2017). Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. 2nd ed. Sage: Thousand Oaks, California, United States of America.
Resources for interdisciplinary dialogue and team science
National Academy of Sciences. (2005). Facilitating interdisciplinary research. National Academies Press: Washington, DC, United States of America. Online: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/11153/facilitating-interdisciplinary-research
McDonald, D., Bammer, G. and Deane, P. (2009). Research Integration Using Dialogue Methods. ANU Press: Canberra, Australia. Online: https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/research-integration-using-dialogue-methods
National Research Council. (2015). Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science. National Academies Press. Washington, DC, USA: Online: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/19007/enhancing-the-effectiveness-of-team-science
O’Rourke, M., Crowley, S., Eigebrode, S. D. and Wulfhorst, J. D. (Eds.) (2014). Enhancing Communication and Collaboration in Interdisciplinary Research. Sage: Thousand Oaks, California, United States of America.
Biography: Andi Hess is the Director of the Interdisciplinary Translation and Integration Sciences Initiative at Arizona State University, which aims to help research teams across the university bridge disciplinary gaps through a process of interdisciplinary translation. Her research interests include the science of team science, research team leadership, interdisciplinarity, and cross-disciplinary science communication.