A critical realist inquiry in conducting interdisciplinary research: An analysis of LUCID examples

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The scale and complexity of contemporary sustainability challenges necessitates interdisciplinarity in research and pluralism in practice. In recent year, however, a strong natural science hegemony has predominantly framed our understanding of the dynamics of nature and society. This strong hegemonic conceptualization of global predicaments is troublesome given both the drivers of sustainability challenges and the agents with the capacity to address them are social and require insights from the social sciences. In this article, we analyze the process and outcomes of one of the pioneers in the world to provide a platform for advancing sustainability science and interdisciplinary research with a heavy emphasis on social science; namely, the Lund University Centre of Excellence for Integration of the Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability (LUCID).
We, first, identify a consistent set of criteria for evaluating interdisciplinary research processes and outcomes. Second, we apply these criteria in an analysis of a selection of scholarly work produced at LUCID. Third, we evaluate the impacts of LUCID’s institutional settings on the process of interdisciplinary research. Finally, we assess to what degree the outcomes of LUCID research have managed to produce satisfactory explanations of concrete sustainability challenges.
Our analysis of the LUCID work suggests that the synthetic integrated knowledge required to analyze and address complex sustainability challenges is more likely to be produced if researchers employ retroductive logic and adhere to the principles of methodological pluralism. We stress in particular the importance of institutional settings in supporting such research, both in terms of finance and administration as well as in providing a conducive intellectual environment wherein authentic interdisciplinarity can emerge. Maintaining the kinds of horizontal and vertical integration characteristic of such conducive institutional settings, however, poses a major challenge in light of current trends, at least in Sweden, towards more compartmentalized, disciplinary university structures.

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Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Keywords

  • anti-reductionism, Critical Realism, interdisciplinary research centers, methodological pluralism, retroduction, sustainability science.
Original languageEnglish
Article number41
Number of pages14
JournalEcology and Society
Volume23
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes