Dissipating the fuzziness around interdisciplinarity: The case of climate change research

Authors: Anne Blanchard, Jean-Paul Vanderlinden

Late last century saw an increasing realisation of significant environmental changes on a global scale, characterised by high levels of dynamism and complexity, and important stakes. Perhaps foremost among these global changes is the issue of climate change, which will form the context of this paper. The complexity that accompanies climate change translates into a need for scientific interdisciplinary approaches, first to achieve a more integrated and comprehensive vision of the
issues, and second to better inform the decision-making processes. However, achieving an interdisciplinary setting can be an elusive goal, owing particularly to the contextual nature of interdisciplinary dynamics, which makes it difficult to follow any means of ‘best-practice’.

Nevertheless, a common understanding of interdisciplinarity is important for researchers and practitioners to ask comparable questions and explore similar hypotheses, thus enabling them to build on what they already know, and advance the practice and scholarship of interdisciplinarity. To this end, both the scholarship and practice of interdisciplinarity have shown the need for actors who commit to interdisciplinarity to reflect on four complex features. They are its definition, origins, objectives and means. The purpose of this paper is to explore and clarify these four features in order to provide route-markers to a more effective and long-lasting implementation and structuring of complex interdisciplinary dynamics. Mobilising dialogue between theory and practice, this paper will draw from both an overview of the literature, and qualitative research undertaken in the Ile-de-France region within the Scientific Consortium for Climate, Environment and Society (GIS CES), which is attempting to conduct interdisciplinary research on the impact of climate change on society.

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