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

Michiru Nagatsu, Miles MacLeod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


In this paper we take a close look at current interdisciplinary modeling practices in the environmental sci- ences, 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 trans- formative 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 prac- tices 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 crystalliza- tion, while contradicting somewhat the novel goals many have for interdisciplinarity, makes sense when con- sidered 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 inter- disciplinarity are obtainable in the environmental sciences and elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Pages (from-to)74-84
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 611 Philosophy
  • interdisciplinarity
  • modelling
  • 1172 Environmental sciences
  • 511 Economics

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