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Toward an alternative dialogue between the social and natural sciences

Persson, Johannes LU ; Hornborg, Alf LU ; Olsson, Lennart LU and Thorén, Henrik LU (2018) In Ecology and Society 23(4).
Abstract (Swedish)
Interdisciplinary research within the field of sustainability studies often faces incompatible ontological assumptions deriving from natural and social sciences. The importance of this fact is often underrated and sometimes leads to the wrong strategies. We distinguish between two broad approaches in interdisciplinarity: unificationism and pluralism. Unificationism seeks unification and perceives disciplinary boundaries as conventional, representing no long-term obstacle to progress, while pluralism emphasises more ephemeral and transient interdisciplinary connections and underscores the autonomy of the disciplines with respect to one another. Both approaches have their merits and pitfalls. Unification runs the risk of scientific... (More)
Interdisciplinary research within the field of sustainability studies often faces incompatible ontological assumptions deriving from natural and social sciences. The importance of this fact is often underrated and sometimes leads to the wrong strategies. We distinguish between two broad approaches in interdisciplinarity: unificationism and pluralism. Unificationism seeks unification and perceives disciplinary boundaries as conventional, representing no long-term obstacle to progress, while pluralism emphasises more ephemeral and transient interdisciplinary connections and underscores the autonomy of the disciplines with respect to one another. Both approaches have their merits and pitfalls. Unification runs the risk of scientific imperialism while pluralism can result in insurmountable barriers between disciplines. The bulk of the paper is a comparison of eight distinct interdisciplinary attempts at integration of knowledge across social and natural and science. The comparison is carried out as four pairwise comparisons: Environmental Economics vs. Ecological Economics; Environmental History vs. Historical Ecology; Resilience Theory vs. Political Ecology; and Sociobiology vs. Actor-Network Theory. We conclude by showing that none of these prominent eight interdisciplinary fields in and of itself manages to provide, in a satisfactory way, such an integrated understanding of sustainability. We argue for pluralism and advocate complex ways of articulating divergent ontological assumptions. This is not equivalent to pursuing knowledge unification either through scientific imperialism or by catering to the requirements of narrow practical utility. It means prioritizing interdisciplinary integration by simultaneously acknowledging the role of societal and natural factors in accounting for sustainability issues. (Less)
Abstract
Interdisciplinary research within the field of sustainability studies often faces incompatible ontological assumptions deriving from natural and social sciences. The importance of this fact is often underrated and sometimes leads to the wrong strategies. We distinguish between two broad approaches in interdisciplinarity: unificationism and pluralism. Unificationism seeks unification and perceives disciplinary boundaries as conventional, representing no long-term obstacle to progress, whereas pluralism emphasizes more ephemeral and transient interdisciplinary connections and underscores the autonomy of the disciplines with respect to one another. Both approaches have their merits and pitfalls. Unification runs the risk of scientific... (More)
Interdisciplinary research within the field of sustainability studies often faces incompatible ontological assumptions deriving from natural and social sciences. The importance of this fact is often underrated and sometimes leads to the wrong strategies. We distinguish between two broad approaches in interdisciplinarity: unificationism and pluralism. Unificationism seeks unification and perceives disciplinary boundaries as conventional, representing no long-term obstacle to progress, whereas pluralism emphasizes more ephemeral and transient interdisciplinary connections and underscores the autonomy of the disciplines with respect to one another. Both approaches have their merits and pitfalls. Unification runs the risk of scientific imperialism, while pluralism can result in insurmountable barriers between disciplines. We made a comparison of eight distinct interdisciplinary attempts at integration of knowledge across social and natural sciences. The comparison was carried out as four pairwise comparisons: environmental economics versus ecological economics, environmental history versus historical ecology, resilience theory versus political ecology, and socio-biology versus actor-network theory. We conclude by showing that none of these prominent eight interdisciplinary fields in and of itself manages to provide, in a satisfactory way, such an integrated understanding of sustainability. We argue for pluralism and advocate complex ways of articulating divergent ontological assumptions. This is not equivalent to pursuing knowledge unification either through scientific imperialism or by catering to the requirements of narrow practical utility. It means prioritizing interdisciplinary integration by simultaneously acknowledging the role of societal and natural factors in accounting for sustainability issues. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Interdisciplinarity, ontology, pluralism, Scientific imperialism, sustainability science, unificationism, Interdisciplinarity, ontology, Pluralism, Scientific imperialism, sustainability issues, unificationism, sustainability science
in
Ecology and Society
volume
23
issue
4
pages
11 pages
publisher
The Resilience Alliance
external identifiers
  • scopus:85059449154
ISSN
1708-3087
DOI
10.5751/ES-10498-230414
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
de1825e8-6517-4351-a68b-289ea569597e
date added to LUP
2018-08-31 23:51:14
date last changed
2019-02-20 11:25:17
@article{de1825e8-6517-4351-a68b-289ea569597e,
  abstract     = {Interdisciplinary research within the field of sustainability studies often faces incompatible ontological assumptions deriving from natural and social sciences. The importance of this fact is often underrated and sometimes leads to the wrong strategies. We distinguish between two broad approaches in interdisciplinarity: unificationism and pluralism. Unificationism seeks unification and perceives disciplinary boundaries as conventional, representing no long-term obstacle to progress, whereas pluralism emphasizes more ephemeral and transient interdisciplinary connections and underscores the autonomy of the disciplines with respect to one another. Both approaches have their merits and pitfalls. Unification runs the risk of scientific imperialism, while pluralism can result in insurmountable barriers between disciplines. We made a comparison of eight distinct interdisciplinary attempts at integration of knowledge across social and natural sciences. The comparison was carried out as four pairwise comparisons: environmental economics versus ecological economics, environmental history versus historical ecology, resilience theory versus political ecology, and socio-biology versus actor-network theory. We conclude by showing that none of these prominent eight interdisciplinary fields in and of itself manages to provide, in a satisfactory way, such an integrated understanding of sustainability. We argue for pluralism and advocate complex ways of articulating divergent ontological assumptions. This is not equivalent to pursuing knowledge unification either through scientific imperialism or by catering to the requirements of narrow practical utility. It means prioritizing interdisciplinary integration by simultaneously acknowledging the role of societal and natural factors in accounting for sustainability issues.},
  articleno    = {14},
  author       = {Persson, Johannes and Hornborg, Alf and Olsson, Lennart and Thorén, Henrik},
  issn         = {1708-3087},
  keyword      = {Interdisciplinarity,ontology,pluralism,Scientific imperialism,sustainability science,unificationism,Interdisciplinarity,ontology,Pluralism,Scientific imperialism,sustainability issues,unificationism,sustainability science},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {10},
  number       = {4},
  pages        = {11},
  publisher    = {The Resilience Alliance},
  series       = {Ecology and Society},
  title        = {Toward an alternative dialogue between the social and natural sciences},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-10498-230414},
  volume       = {23},
  year         = {2018},
}