The Possibility of Interdisciplinary Research in the Social Sciences

Dominic Holland
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Recent evidence suggests that intellectual integration in the social (and natural) sciences is proving difficult to achieve. Universities throughout the West have established research institutes explicitly designed to encourage the integration of knowledge across disciplines. Yet it seems that much of what is claimed to be interdisciplinary research represents more a juxtaposition than a genuine integration of disciplinary perspectives.

This paper offers an explanation for the difficulties experienced in integrating knowledge through interdisciplinary research. Section one critically examines current conceptions of interdisciplinary research and argues that proponents of interdisciplinarity have taken for granted the nature of an academic 'discipline'. Where the term is discussed at all it is usually equated with particular objects of inquiry and theories about those objects. Section two, therefore, presents a more developed conception of discplinarity, grounded in a realist social ontology. It argues that the term 'discipline' should be used to refer to a specific social and philosophical context, which facilitates specialization of research. Section three then asks what must be the social and philosophical conditions for the integration of knowledge. The paper concludes that most attempts at interdisciplinary research fail because they do not meet the conditions for integration.

Keywords: Interdisciplinarity, Multidisciplinarity, Disciplinarity, Integration, Specialization, Realist Social Ontology
Stream: Other or Stream Unspecified
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dominic Holland

Research Student, Department of Politics, University of Sheffield
Sheffield, UK

Having taken degrees in economics and politics, I am now a third-year research student in the philosophy, sociology and history of science at the University of Sheffield. My doctoral thesis, 'Interdisciplinary Social Science: A Critical Realist Approach', explores the possibility of integrating knowledge in the social sciences through interdisciplinary research practices. I attempt to explain why social science separated into disciplines in the 19th century, why it is so difficult to integrate knowledge in the social sciences, and consider justifications for integrating knowledge. My work is heavily informed by a recently developed philosophy of science known as 'critical realism', which is most closely associated with the philosopher Roy Bhaskar. A research paper I prepared on the unification of the social sciences is about to be published by The Graduate Journal of Social Science.

Ref: I06P0131