'The Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies' (TES)
Volume 1, Number 1, May 2002

ISSN 1602-2297


Limitations to Interdisciplinarity in
Problem Oriented Social Science Research


Jobst Conrad, Senior Researcher,
Environmental Policy Research Unit, Free University Berlin, Germany
E-mail: jconrad@zedat.fu-berlin.de

Abstract: This paper describes and evaluates the feasibility of, and limitations to, the interdisciplinarity of two comparative international, multidisciplinary, problem and policy oriented social science research projects. These projects, entitled „Alternative uses for land and the new farm worker: segregation versus integration“ (1985 – 1987) and „Successful environmental management in European companies“ (1992 –1995), involving 6-7 person years, were carried out for the EU Commission.
After conceptually clarifying some key theoretical terms, the empirical analysis investigates both projects with respect to their degree of interdisciplinarity. The analysis concerns the integration of natural and social sciences, their resulting interpretative, conceptual framework, and the theoretical basis of their policy recommendations.
It is found that although the projects clearly acknowledged the multidimensional (and multidisciplinary) character of research which involved questions and problems relating to both nature and society, neither project strove to become, nor achieved true interdisciplinarity in terms of frames of reference. Furthermore, neither project developed dynamic interactive conceptual models which could be used to provide an adequate explanation of successful environmental management, as was the original intention.

Key Words: Disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, problem oriented research, sustainability


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