Thinking about knowing: conceptual foundations for interdisciplinary environmental research

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Working across knowledge-based research programmes, rather than institutional structures, should be central to interdisciplinary research. In this paper, a novel framework is proposed to facilitate interdisciplinary research, with the goals of promoting communication, understanding and collaborative work. Three core elements need to be addressed to improve interdisciplinary research: the types (forms and functions) of theories, the underlying philosophies of knowledge and the combination of research styles; these three elements combine to form the research programme. Case studies from sustainability science and environmental security illustrate the application of this research programme-based framework. This framework may be helpful in overcoming often oversimplified distinctions, such as qualitative/quantitative, deductive/inductive, normative/descriptive, subjective/objective and theory/practice. Applying this conceptual framework to interdisciplinary research should foster theoretical advances, more effective communication and better problem-solving in increasingly interdisciplinary environmental fields.


  • Sanjeev Khagram
  • Kimberly Nicholas
  • Dena Macmynowski Bever
  • Justin Warren
  • Elizabeth H. Richards
  • Kirsten Oleson
  • Justin Kitzes
  • Rebecca Katz
  • Rebeca Hwang
  • Rebecca Goldman
  • Jason Funk
  • Kate A. Brauman
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • theory development, sustainability science, research methods, philosophy of science, interdisciplinary research, epistemology, environment and security, environmental studies
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)388-397
JournalEnvironmental Conservation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch