Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
Science as Culture
For a Special Issue on
Interdisciplinary Research on Societal Challenges
01 February 2023
01 June 2023
Interdisciplinary Research on Societal Challenges
Substantial literatures exist in the research areas of both grand societal challenges and interdisciplinary research. As these two areas have become highly connected, especially in research policies, their connectedness demands systematic attention. In interdisciplinary research projects, grand challenges – as recognized by research funding organizations – are transformed into collaborative research designs and policy-relevant research outputs. In this fashion, policy relevance permeates a whole chain of transpositions: diverse framings of societal challenges are turned into funding call texts, then implemented in interdisciplinary research work, which in turn yields results to inform policies.
Building upon Science and Technology Studies (STS), this themed issue produces a novel contribution by drilling deeper into these transpositions. Instead of describing large-scale research policies, we target practical interdisciplinary research collaboration, where these transpositions are enacted and worked with.
The necessity of interdisciplinary research collaboration and partnering across professional and institutional divides has become mainstream in today’s academic culture. In recent years, the collaborative discourse has taken a major step forward from the initial comments on interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary research logic. These terms were created to indicate varieties of juxtapositions and amalgamations of knowledge bases from different academic disciplines (Gibbons and Nowotny, 2001; Klein, 1990; 2010; Salter and Hearn, 1996). Currently, instead of indicating how established and distinct academic disciplines solve problems and address research questions collaboratively, interdisciplinarity – including its various guises such as multidisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity – has become a pivotal element of forward-looking research policies.
Addressing grand societal challenges, which travel across institutional boundaries, has been framed as a key task for interdisciplinary research (Levidow, 2014; Felt, 2014; Winskel, 2014, 2018). The relevant topical challenges are highly diverse: from climate change to demographic change, clean energy, inclusive societies, and more. The European Union discourse focuses on mission-driven innovation (Mazzucato, 2018); in the UK, industrial strategies refer to grand challenges (UK Government, 2021); and in Finland, new avenues have been opened for strategic research and research-based knowledge for society (Academy of Finland, 2022). In addition to emphasizing interdisciplinary research work, the key interest in these policies has been in furthering strong transdisciplinary work, which implies the involvement of non-academics – from civil society to companies and policymakers – as co-designers of research design and production (Winskel, 2018).
Nevertheless, policy-driven research collaborations can perpetuate hierarchical relations between different academic disciplines, as well as researchers and non-academic stakeholders, and incorporate dominant policy or disciplinary-based assumptions, even while advocating inter- and transdisciplinarity (Felt, 2014; Levidow and Neubauer, 2014). These pressures imply a constant need for negotiation, especially for those who exercise less influence. There are many obstacles to producing genuinely novel transcendent knowledge that addresses grand societal challenges: their complexity, rival framings, and power imbalances.
Meanwhile, the topic of practical interdisciplinary work has found renewed interest in STS, the sociology of scientific knowledge, and adjacent fields. Recent studies have addressed pluralistic collaborations that academics engage in within interdisciplinary settings (Halfon and Sovacool, 2022) and different experiential ways of knowing and knowledge practices (Meskus and Tikka, 2022). The core focus has been on the research practice itself, including roles (Balmer et al., 2015), experiences (Callard and Fitzgerald, 2015), and communication activities (Verouden et al., 2016) in interdisciplinary teamwork. Focusing on pragmatic collaborations has also led to corroborating practical problems, such as epistemic differences and power imbalances (Silvast and Foulds, 2022).
This themed issue focuses on the nexus of policy-driven interdisciplinarity and practical collaborations in interdisciplinary research settings. The goal is to showcase research that examines how researchers collaborate across disciplinary and institutional divides while dealing with the policy-boundedness of research, especially in addressing grand societal challenges. To illuminate science as culture, the themed issue situates interdisciplinary collaboration within a wider debate by targeting scientific practices in the current context of research policies focusing on grand societal challenges.
Starting from the issues and concepts above, we welcome contributions that deal with the following questions:
- How does interdisciplinary research frame the societal challenges that it addresses?
- What choices and judgments are involved in such framing?
- What consequences does the policy-based interwovenness of interdisciplinarity and societal challenges have for research collaboration and relationships with stakeholder groups and their perspectives? For example, are new strategic partnerships created? What are the related trade-offs?
- Given the policy interest in interdisciplinary research around societal challenges, how does this affect the knowledge that is produced by academics who gain the respective funding?
- How does such research address (or not) the original policy drivers?
Articles should engage with at least some concepts in the above survey. In addition, all SaC research papers must follow the SaC editorial guidelines, especially the structural-conceptual features on the first page, with a maximum length of 10k words, https://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/authors/csac_edit_guidelines.pdf
Any articles significantly diverging from the guidelines will be returned to the author.
Academy of Finland (2022) Strategic research – research-based knowledge for society. Available at https://www.aka.fi/en/strategic-research/ (accessed 7 November 2022).
Balmer, A. S., Calvert, J., Marris, C., Molyneux-Hodgson, S., Frow, E., Kearnes, M. and Martin, P. (2015) Taking roles in interdisciplinary collaborations: Reflections on working in post-ELSI spaces in the UK synthetic biology community, Science and Technology Studies, 28(3), pp. 3-25.
Callard, F. and Fitzgerald, D. (2015) Rethinking Interdisciplinarity across the Social Sciences and Neurosciences (Cham: Springer Nature).
Felt, U. (2014) Within, across and beyond: Reconsidering the role of social sciences and humanities in Europe. Science as Culture, 23(3), pp. 384-396.
Gibbons, M. and Nowotny, H. (2001) The potential of transdisciplinarity, in: Thompson Klein, J., Grossenbacher-Mansuy, W., Häberli, R., Bill, A., Scholz, R.W. and Welti, M. (Eds) Transdisciplinarity: Joint problem solving among science, technology, and society, pp. 67– 80 (Basel: Birkhäuser Basel).
Halfon, S. and Sovacool, B. K. (2022) Pluralistic collaboration in science and technology: reviewing knowledge systems, culture, norms, and work styles, Science, Technology, & Human Values, 01622439221124663.
Klein, J.T. (1990) Interdisciplinarity: History, theory, and practice (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press).
Klein, J.T. (2010) A taxonomy of interdisciplinarity, in: Thompson Klein, J., Mitcham, C. and Frodeman, R. (Eds) The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity, pp. 15–30 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Levidow, L. (2014). Introduction to Sac Forum: ‘Embedding social sciences?’. Science as Culture, 23(3), pp. 382-383.
Levidow L. and Neubauer C. (2014) EU research agendas: embedding what future?, Science as Culture, 23(3), pp. 397-412.
Mazzucato, M. (2018) Mission-oriented research & innovation in the European Union (Brussels: European Commission).
Meskus, M. and Tikka, E. (2022) Speculative approaches in social science and design research: Methodological implications of working in ‘the gap’ of uncertainty, Qualitative Research, 14687941221129808.
Salter, L. and Hearn, A. (1996) Outside the Lines: Issues in interdisciplinary research (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press).
Silvast, A. and Foulds, C. (2022) Sociology of Interdisciplinarity: The Dynamics of Energy Research (Cham: Springer Nature).
UK Government (2021). Policy paper: The Grand Challenge missions. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/industrial-strategy-the-grand-challenges/missions (accessed 7 November 2022).
Verouden, N. W., van der Sanden, M. C. and Aarts, N. (2016) Silence in interdisciplinary research collaboration: Not everything said is relevant, not everything relevant is said, Science as Culture, 25(2), pp. 264-288.
Winskel, M. (2014) Embedding social sciences in interdisciplinary research: recent experiences from interdisciplinary energy research, Science as Culture, 23(3), pp. 413-418.
Winskel, M. (2018) The pursuit of interdisciplinary whole systems energy research: Insights from the UK Energy Research Centre, Energy Research & Social Science, 37, pp. 74-84.
When submitting, please select "Interdisciplinary Research on Societal Challenges" in ScholarOne.
This themed issue welcomes all categories of Science as Culture (SaC) articles: Research Papers, Book Reviews, Media Reviews, Engagements, and Forum Contributions. Please find more information on article types at https://www.tandfonline.com/action/authorSubmission?show=instructions&journalCode=csac20
Please submit an abstract to the guest editors in advance of the full manuscript, by the deadline of 1 Febuary 2023. The guest editors will give feedback on the abstract and its fit with the scope of the themed issue.
All SaC research papers must follow the SaC editorial guidelines, especially the structural-conceptual features on the first page, with a maximum length of 10k words, https://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/authors/csac_edit_guidelines.pdf
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