What does interdisciplinarity look like in practice: Mapping interdisciplinarity and its limits in the environmental sciences

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Abstract

In this paper we take a close look at current interdisciplinary modeling practices in the environmental sciences, and suggest that closer attention needs to be paid to the nature of scientific practices when investigating and planning interdisciplinarity. While interdisciplinarity is often portrayed as a medium of novel and transformative methodological work, current modeling strategies in the environmental sciences are conservative, avoiding methodological conflict, while confining interdisciplinary interactions to a relatively small set of pre-existing modeling frameworks and strategies (a process we call crystallization). We argue that such practices can be rationalized as responses in part to cognitive constraints which restrict interdisciplinary work. We identify four salient integrative modeling strategies in environmental sciences, and argue that this crystallization, while contradicting somewhat the novel goals many have for interdisciplinarity, makes sense when considered in the light of common disciplinary practices and cognitive constraints. These results provide cause to rethink in more concrete methodological terms what interdisciplinarity amounts to, and what kinds of interdisciplinarity are obtainable in the environmental sciences and elsewhere.
LanguageEnglish
Pages74-84
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science, Part A
Volume67
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2018

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Interdisciplinarity
Environmental Science
Modeling
Cognitive Constraints
Crystallization
Causes
Scientific Practice
Salient
Planning
Interaction

Cite this

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title = "What does interdisciplinarity look like in practice: Mapping interdisciplinarity and its limits in the environmental sciences",
abstract = "In this paper we take a close look at current interdisciplinary modeling practices in the environmental sciences, and suggest that closer attention needs to be paid to the nature of scientific practices when investigating and planning interdisciplinarity. While interdisciplinarity is often portrayed as a medium of novel and transformative methodological work, current modeling strategies in the environmental sciences are conservative, avoiding methodological conflict, while confining interdisciplinary interactions to a relatively small set of pre-existing modeling frameworks and strategies (a process we call crystallization). We argue that such practices can be rationalized as responses in part to cognitive constraints which restrict interdisciplinary work. We identify four salient integrative modeling strategies in environmental sciences, and argue that this crystallization, while contradicting somewhat the novel goals many have for interdisciplinarity, makes sense when considered in the light of common disciplinary practices and cognitive constraints. These results provide cause to rethink in more concrete methodological terms what interdisciplinarity amounts to, and what kinds of interdisciplinarity are obtainable in the environmental sciences and elsewhere.",
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