Multidisciplinary research with both pitfalls and potential


Yesterday afternoon about 40 researchers from the Impact programme gathered at CRS for the second researchers’ meeting of 2013. They got to listen to panel debate about multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary research which exposed strong and differing opinions.

Mats Franzen, Margareta Fahlgren, Grace Davie, Elena Namli and Leif Stenberg.

Mats Franzén, Margareta Fahlgren, Grace Davie, Elena Namli and Leif Stenberg.

Four researchers from different multidisciplinary research centers had been invited to the Impact researchers’ meeting to discuss the pitfalls and potentials of multidisciplinary research. The debate was chaired by professor emerita Grace Davie.

According to professor Leif Stenberg, from Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and professor Margaretha Fahlgren, Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala university, it is clear that multidisciplinary research can contribute to understanding between researchers from different scientific fields. It can even lead to new, exciting results. But, at the same time, it also faces certain challenges. One of them is that researchers have a hard time finding journals willing to publish the results of multidisciplinary research. Another is the risk that multidisciplinary applications for research grants fall between the cracks, Leif Stenberg added.

Professor Elena Namli, Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, stressed the importance of researchers being firmly rooted in their own disciplines. She also expressed some skepticism towards the multidisciplinary approach.
– It is good to learn enough from others to be challenged by them, but it is necessary to build your confidence in your own discipline, she said.

Another important characteristic for the traditional research disciplines is that they have mechanisms to ensure the quality of research. According to Elena Namli, that is sometimes lacking in multidisciplinary research environments.
Margareta Fahlgren replied to Elena Namli’s criticism by pointing to the complexity of the problems that societies face today, problems that often need multidisciplinary research to be solved. Fahlgren also stressed that today’s scientific disciplines are not natural, but historical constructions.

Panelists and the audience agreed that it is difficult for researchers with different scientific backgrounds to meet gather around a common terminology. When the Centre for Gender Research started their work with researchers from both humanist- and social sciences, and biologists, it took several seminars to find an understanding of the problems and the terms, Margareta Fahlgren told.

Professor Mats Franzen, from the Institute for Housing and Urban Research, Uppsala university, had a slightly different view of how different disciplines could meet.
– Researchers from different fields can unite around a common question, he stated.

Professor Grace Davie concluded the discussion by stating that there is good and bad multidisciplinary research, as well as good and bad research within a discipline. Well performed, multidisciplinary research can provide new answers, she said, but badly done it may be shallow. On the other hand, research within a discipline can add depth, but it may also be conservative. Grace Davie also stressed that it takes a certain entrepreneurial spirit to create the possibilities to multidisciplinary research.


News from 2013