Based on my recent four-year excursion to university administration as a vice-dean for research, I reflect on how the academic leadership of a university conceives interdisciplinarity. I contrast this perspective with the grassroots experiences of interdisciplinary collaboration. I show how the advancement of interdisciplinary collaboration arises as an issue for academic leadership and how it remains a chronic challenge despite many academic leaders having extensive personal experience of interdisciplinary collaborations.
Petri Ylikoski is Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Helsinki and Visiting professor at the Institute for Analytical Sociology (Linköping University). He is the Director of the research project Data Literacy and Responsible Decision-making.
Petri started his career as a philosopher of science but now considers himself a social scientist. Encounters across disciplinary boundaries characterize his research career. Apart from crossing the boundaries between philosophy and social sciences, he has studied the relations between various biological sciences and the social sciences. More recently, he has focused on the emergence of the interdisciplinary field of computational social science. His current research focuses on the foundations of mechanism-based social science, institutional epistemology, and the social consequences of artificial intelligence.
In my talk I shall bring together two of my research interests: firstly, interdisciplinarity as understood both as a practice and an epistemic object, and, secondly, university research as a site of social reproduction and of labour exploitation. Current practices of knowledge production in and across many disciplines encourage collaborative relationships that bring together many kinds of researcher and research labour (including technicians, administrators, and ‘public contributors’ [members of the public, including patients, service users and carers]). What kinds of work take place in these collaborative relationships? How do practices of collaboration affect epistemic cultures? How does interdisciplinarity transform standard accounts of discipline and disciplinary reproduction? I shall use the concepts of reproduction, kinship, and exploitation to think through questions such as these. My talk will include several case studies (including the large collaborative residency ‘Hubbub’ I directed at Wellcome Collection in London, the current so-called ‘replication crisis’ in psychology, and collaborative mental health research that brings together ‘conventional’ researchers and service-user/patient researchers).
Felicity Callard is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Glasgow and Editor-in-Chief of the interdisciplinary journal History of the Human Sciences. She has worked in a number of disciplines and departments, and has long practised interdisciplinary research that crosses the social sciences, the life sciences and the medical humanities to address complex issues in health and the human sciences. For example, she directed the first two-year research residency of The Hub at Wellcome Collection in London that addressed rest and its opposites in mental health, neuroscience, the arts and the everyday. She is the co-author, with Des Fitzgerald, of Rethinking Interdisciplinarity across the Social Sciences and Neurosciences (2015), and is one of the interdisciplinary advisers on the main social science panel of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework. In addition to her research with Fitzgerald on interdisciplinarity as experimental entanglement, she has more recently been working on collaboration through addressing academic labour and social reproduction in the university.
Collaboration between social scientists and various disciplines within fields of natural sciences, biomedicine and technology design has been a long-standing topic of analysis within science and technology studies. Accounts concerning collaboration between social sciences, however, are much harder to come by.
While some of the dynamics of collaboration are shared when collaborating across and within fields - emphasis on externally funded work, project-based modus operandi, organisational hierarchies, demands for high-impact outputs - there are some critical differences. Focusing on the specificities of social science collaboration, in this talk I will reflect on the on-going collaborative work under the Centre for the Social Study of Microbes that strives to create new cultures of knowledge production that are non-hierarchical and inclusive.
Salla Sariola is the Director of the Social Study of Microbes Centre at University of Helsinki and a Finnish Academy Research Fellow in sociology. Her current research on the social study of microbes includes exploring changing scientific practices on environmental microbes and antimicrobial resistance and well as developing fermentation as an experimental research method. She is the author of 4 books and her fieldwork has taken her to feminist, queer and HIV activist movements in India and Kenya, hospitals of Sri Lanka, and rural laboratories in Benin and Burkina Faso, as well as fermentation enthusiasts in Finland the Northeast of India. With extensive experience of interdisciplinary and social scientific collaboration, Salla has written about collaboration, in collaboration, the dynamics of which she addresses in her keynote.
The challenge of energy systems in the 21st century is to accelerate their green transitions while dealing with the uncertainties raised by the manifold consequences of changing energy systems in our societies. As a result, academic disciplines from the social sciences and humanities are increasingly expected to collaborate with other disciplines in examining energy transitions and also actually managing them. This interdisciplinarity is favoured as a label by policymakers, national governments, university strategies, think tanks, and most academics themselves. It forms an increasing part of how project scholars now work. However, the everyday experiences of doing this interdisciplinary work are rarely examined and are still insufficiently understood. This talk taps into my ethnographies of large energy projects from three countries - Finland, Norway, and the UK - and builds upon them to forge a new framework, a Sociology of Interdisciplinarity, that draws lessons from prominent themes recognised in STS and Science Studies scholarship. In doing so, it examines and demonstrates how research and innovation actors collaborate or not successfully in these increasingly common interdisciplinary contexts for nearly all large-scale externally funded research. The talk builds upon my recently published co-authored book (by Silvast & Foulds, 2022, A Sociology of Interdisciplinarity) and presents its key statements and outcomes.
Antti Silvast is a Sociologist with interest in infrastructures, methodology, and interdisciplinarity. He is currently an Associate Professor at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), DTU Management, Department of Technology, Management and Economics, in its Responsible Technology section. Antti held postdoctoral appointments at Princeton (US), Durham (UK), the STS group of University of Edinburgh (UK), and NTNU (Norway). His PhD was awarded by the University of Helsinki on risk in the electricity infrastructure in Finland and Scandinavia, spanning markets, security of supply, and everyday life.
Antti has co-authored two books: Making Electricity Resilient (Routledge, 2017) and Sociology of Interdisciplinarity: The Dynamics of Energy Research (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, with Chris Foulds). The topic of Antti’s talk is A Sociology of Interdisciplinarity: Inquiry into Energy Research Practice.