Toward an alternative dialogue between the social and natural sciences

Forskningsoutput: TidskriftsbidragArtikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift


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.


Enheter & grupper
Externa organisationer
  • University of Helsinki

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Tvärvetenskapliga studier
  • Filosofi


  • Interdisciplinarity, ontology, pluralism, Scientific imperialism, sustainability science, unificationism
Antal sidor11
TidskriftEcology and Society
StatusPublished - 2018 okt 24
Peer review utfördJa


Ingen tillgänglig data

Related projects

Johan Brännmark, Johannes Persson, Lena Wahlberg, Annika Wallin, Eva Sjöstrand, Nils-Eric Sahlin, Sten Anttila, Charlotta Levay, Niklas Vareman, Lena Wahlberg, Wändi Bruine de Bruin, Alexander D. Davis, Baruch Fischhoff & Barbara McNeil


Projekt: Forskning

Visa alla (2)