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Interdisciplinarity: complexities and conundrums

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Lecture by Uskali Mäki, Academy of Finland and University of Helsinki.

"Interdisciplinarity is hot, and increasingly so. It is expected to promote virtues such as creativity and practical relevance in scientific research. It is encouraged and supported by university administrators and research funding agencies. On the other hand, many scientists have doubts about the current excitement and rather believe in the power of disciplinarity and disciplinary division of intellectual labour. Two key questions arise. What is interdisciplinarity? What kinds of scientific excellence might interdisciplinarity promote? Available popular answers tend to be rather narrow and simplistic, at times obscure. They are typically put in the context of "Mode 2" knowledge production, in terms of ideas such as integration or replacement of disciplines and of practical problem solving. But interdisciplinarity is much more than that, not all of it is unconditionally recommendable, and much of (the best of) it depends on solid disciplinarity. The challenges range from facilitating small-scale cross-fertilization between disciplines to dealing with large-scale threats to the autonomy of the institution of science. There is a pressing need to develop more nuanced accounts of the varieties and complexities of interdisciplinarity and its normative assessment so as to serve the needs of contemporary science and science policy."