Disciplinary perspectives in interdisciplinary collaborations

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


ABSTRACT: Why is interdisciplinary collaboration in scientific research so difficult? These difficulties are often explained in terms of psychological, social or organizational aspects. My focus is on inherent epistemological and methodological aspects, which are addressed by making use of recent insights in the philosophy of science.
In this keynote lecture, the interdisciplinary collaborations of medical experts and engineers to develop medical technologies will be taken as an example. Lessons learned from this specific case can be translated into other highly interdisciplinary research and development practices such as systems biology, neuroscience, and cognitive sciences.
In the first part of this lecture, I will explain how widely held images of science may hamper an adequate understanding of interdisciplinary research. As a consequence, epistemological and methodological challenges of interdisciplinary research are often not recognized and hardly addressed systematically (Boon and Van Baalen 2019). My explanation begins with Thomas Kuhn’s famous views on the role of paradigms and disciplinary matrices in science. My co-author Sophie van Baalen and I have worked out Kuhn’s insights to explain the difficulties of interdisciplinary collaborations through the role of so-called disciplinary perspectives. Every scientist and expert is guided, often unknowingly, by her own disciplinary perspective. The implicitness of these perspectives is one of the causes of difficulties in interdisciplinary collaborations. In order to cooperate fruitfully, therefore, the disciplinary perspectives in an interdisciplinary project must be made explicit.
In the second part of this lecture, a method (also called, a scaffold) is presented to systematically explicate disciplinary perspectives. This method consists of a series of questions that lead to a coherent and concise description of a disciplinary perspective. Using this method in actual interdisciplinary collaborations on a shared problem or goal also helps to reveal the disciplinary perspectives actually direct the way in which each disciplinary researcher or expert works on the joint problem.
Finally, the application of this method is illustrated by analyzing the roles of four different disciplinary perspectives in a specific case where the interdisciplinary collaboration of these experts is focused on the development and implementation of ‘diffusion MRI technology for kidney cancer diagnosis.’ This example shows how different the perspective of each expert is, and how crucial it is to address this in order to set up a productive interdisciplinary collaboration. http://avant.edu.pl/trends4/#/
Period24 Oct 201926 Oct 2019
Event title4th AVANT Conference. Trends in Interdisciplinary studies 2019: Fragmentation of Cognition: troubles of interdisciplinary explanations
Event typeConference
Conference number4
LocationPorto, PortugalShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Interdisciplinary research