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Dr Justin Greaves University of Warwick Interdisciplinary Research: Some Practical, Methodological and Philosophical Reflections.

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Presentation on theme: "Dr Justin Greaves University of Warwick Interdisciplinary Research: Some Practical, Methodological and Philosophical Reflections."— Presentation transcript:

1 Dr Justin Greaves University of Warwick Interdisciplinary Research: Some Practical, Methodological and Philosophical Reflections

2 ‘We are not students of some subject matter, but students of problems. And problems may cut right across the borders of any subject matter or discipline’ (Popper, 1963) ‘Thinking means connecting things, and stops if they cannot be connected’ (G K Chesterton)

3 RELU Programme RELU is committed to pursue interdisciplinary working across the natural and social sciences This helps to avoid the trap of approaching problems from a purely technological or sociological perspective (and social science simply being included at end of project) It moves away from simplistic assumptions about ‘technology push’ or ‘society pull’ A commitment to engaging stakeholders throughout the research process

4 RELU at Warwick Involvement with two RELU projects at the University of Warwick The Regulatory and Environmental Sustainability of Biopesticides The Governance of Livestock Diseases (GOLD) Experience of working with (applied) biologists, biological scientists, economist, academic lawyer etc

5 What is a discipline? A distinctive subject matter? A distinctive methodology? An area of expertise that needs specialised training in order to become a practitioner? A professional association which manages the profession and to which most practitioners belong? A mission?

6 Is Politics a discipline? ‘We cannot talk about political science as a discipline if those who call themselves political scientists and pretend to teach it are unable to agree on its basic substance and methodology’ (EPSNet, 2003). ‘I see “the discipline” as a group of people rather than as a set of principles, as a continuing debate rather than as an enquiry in the style of natural science’ (Mackenzie, 1975)

7 Politics: a junction subject? In many ways politics is the junction subject of the social sciences, born out of history and philosophy, but drawing of the insights of economics and sociology and, to a lesser extent, the study of law, psychology and geography This openness can be seen as a strength allowing interdisciplinary work to flourish

8 What is interdisciplinarity? ‘Interdisciplinarity differs from disciplinarity and multidisciplinarity in the emphasis it places on interaction and joint working, which brings the knowledge claims and conventions of different disciplines into a dialogue with each other, yielding new framings of research questions’ (Lowe and Phillipson, 2006)

9 Politics and interdisciplinarity Writers such as Moran (2006) and McKenzie (2007) take a rather pessimistic view of interdisciplinary collaboration Nicola Phillips (at Manchester) takes an interdisciplinary approach to political economy, drawing in subjects such as Sociology and Geography The focus here however is with collaboration within the social sciences

10 Political science and natural science The biological sciences have long enjoyed various affinities with political science The first chapter of Mackenzie’s survey of political science is ‘The Biological Context’ To the positivist natural science and social science are broadly analogous Interpretivists believe that the natural and social world are different and require different methods of enquiry

11 Scientific realism Scientific realism accepts that there is a reality independent of our existence, but also that our access to that world is complicated and our understanding of it is influenced by the webs of meaning that we construct Such an approach ‘can straddle the natural and social sciences’ and is compatible with the interdisciplinary ‘turn’ opening up collaboration between natural and social scientists

12 Some benefits of interdisciplinarity Many scientists hold to the ‘deficit model’ of turning science into policy Incorporating politics (and other disciplines) will allow more sophisticated models of animal disease occurrence and transmission It has allowed the political scientists a more technical understanding of biopesticides (and the scientists to became more theoretical and ‘deductive’)

13 Practical challenges Writing journal articles together (political scientists more ‘discursive’) Difference of emphasis between the research councils and the RAE Department appointment panels need to show greater flexibility and recognise the interdisciplinary agenda Multi-authored papers in the sciences versus single and joint authored papers in the social sciences

14 Controlled eclecticism Phillips (2004) advances ‘controlled eclecticism’, as opposed to a ‘kitchen sink’ kind of eclecticism that rides roughshod over the limits of theoretical or conceptual commensurability An openness to relevant approaches from the other sides of imposed boundaries, but also care in selecting appropriate and fruitful terrains Used in context of IPE and CPE. Could it be applied to interdisciplinary research more widely?

15 Ontology/epistemology Might interdisciplinary methods be capable of development to a transdisciplinary state, involving unification of the involved disciplines at the metaphysical level? (Harvey, 2006) Here the philosophical foundations of the underlying disciplines become fundamental Quarrels about the meaning, significance and importance of research findings are fundamentally quarrels of ontology and epistemology

16 Please visit out websites biopesticides c/gld Thanks to all members of the RELU 1 and RELU 3 project teams (principal investigators Wyn Grant and Graham Medley)

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