Interrogating interdisciplinarity

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"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". Karl Popper (Conjectures and refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge).

Global problems do not come in neat packages: the stresses of transnational migration present questions for international lawyers, transport experts and conflict analysts alike, and the impacts of water scarcity equally call on civil engineers, anthropologists, natural hazard specialists and policy makers. The traditional disciplinary boundaries that are cemented in the academic world are regularly questioned by the “real world”. While not necessarily antidisciplinary, interdisciplinary research is today crucial in seeking solutions to global social, environmental and economic challenges. Yet traditional academic research assessment practices can incentivise approaches to research that lack the interdisciplinary flexibility to engage with challenges like migration, water scarcity, educational underperformance, and many others. Nevertheless, the orientation of some research might be changing, and there are today many emerging examples of promising interdisciplinary collaborations.

This Collection is dedicated to the concept of 'interdisciplinarity' as it occurs within and between disciplines in the humanities and social science, as well as how these disciplines interact with research arising in the clinical, physical, biological, environmental sciences. Articles in this Collection examine evolving definitions of the term ‘interdisciplinary’, present different perspectives on the need and drive for interdisciplinary research, and examine case studies of effective collaborative research in practice. In so doing, this Collection aims to provide fresh insights into the potential impact and outcomes of integrating the specialisations of different academic disciplines.

This article Collection is dedicated to exploring the concept, mechanics, and processes of 'interdisciplinarity'.

Themes explored include:

  • Evolving definitions of interdisciplinarity, and related concepts like ‘transdisciplinarity’
  • Different perspectives on the need to drive for interdisciplinary collaborations
  • The place of interdisciplinarity in shaping policy, such as in relation to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals
  • The mechanics and processes that take place in order for interdisciplinary research to happen in practise
  • The place of interdisciplinarity in educational institutions and assessment exercises (e.g. REF in the UK)
  • The challenges, pitfalls and hurdles that face those seeking to bring disparate disciplinary practices and communities together
  • Lessons learnt from interdisciplinary projects and collaborations and how these can be applied in other contexts
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