Miles McLeod: A Theoretical Account of Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Its Consequence
Abstract: Interdisciplinarity remains a principal concern and priority of funding agencies as a well as science policy and university administrators. While there are other possible forms of cross disciplinary interaction, generally when interdisciplinarity or transdisciplinarity are referred to, policy-makers and others almost always think of interdisciplinary interaction in terms of collaborations amongst research from different disciplines. As we will see science policy and funding bodies have specific reasons for thinking primarily of collaboration as essential to interdisciplinarity, and have specific expectations about what collaborative interdisciplinarity should produce, namely the solutions to specific applied or real-world problems through integration and methodological innovation. But these preferences and expectations are challenged by the reality that much research which might be nominally called interdisciplinary, or which happens by virtue of interdisciplinary funding, tends not to produce novel methodological outcomes or substantial integration. Interdisciplinarity seems fundamentally conservative when it happens, preferring relatively minor modifications to practices rather than larger transformations.
My position is that current interdisciplinary policies fail in these respects in so far as they have not been developed based on deep accounts of scientific practice. Philosophy of science however has developed its own theoretical account of practices and their cognitive structure for other contexts which can be applied to help model collaborative interdisciplinarity and form reasonable expectations about it. These include Chang's systems view of practice, epistemic landscape models of scientific investigation and Humphreys account of model templates. Conjointly these help explain why institutional reforms and incentives often fail to produce the high-level integration policy-makers generally expect, and more fundamentally, to challenge the seemingly unquestioned notion that "collaboration" is somehow the best route to interdisciplinary innovation.