Research: Sociology of Interdisciplinarity

Climate change is an issue that eludes disciplinary problem-solving. Inter- and transdisciplinary research has set out to tackle this challenge and to transcend boundaries both within science and towards policy-makers, the economy and civil society. Therefore, the key issue for a study of climate related knowledge production is communication across boundaries.

The project draws on theoretical considerations from general social theory and the sociology of science. The explorative empirical study combines a multi-method approach, including participant observation, interviews and document analysis. The project is composed of three parts:

Our Three Research Projects

This part of the research activity observes the development of a scientific habitus in young researchers who are enrolled in interdisciplinary PhD programmes. The research is conducted in collaboration with disciplinary and interdisciplinary graduate schools in the earth and climate sciences.

This part of USI's research aims at understanding the impact of interdisciplinary structures on the traditional – disciplinary – organisation of universities. How to best organise scientific knowledge production is a key question in science-policy debates around a “new governance of science” that currently inform funding schemes and organisational development. What, then, is the interrelation of interdisciplinary clusters (such as the clusters of excellence featured by the Exzellenzinitiative) and disciplinary-based universities?

Scientific communication begins with two peers discussing a joint experiment and publishing it in a specialised journal. It includes presentations for differently specialised  colleagues and multidisciplinary journal publications, and finally, oral and written communication towards inter- and transdisciplinary audiences. Thus, popular communication is a matter of degree. In its effects, however, it is consequential for the mode of scientific communication, and, so the working hypothesis, all the more so the more inter- or transdisciplinary the collaboration is. Successful communication in inter- and transdisciplinary contexts requires both, a different linguistic framing and a highly selective presentation. The question then is, in how far selection and simplification backlash on the production of climate related knowledge on the one hand and on policy-making and policy-focused priorities on the other.