2010 volume 42(7) pages 1521 – 1536

Cite as:
Donaldson A, Ward N, Bradley S, 2010, "Mess among disciplines: interdisciplinarity in environmental research" Environment and Planning A 42(7) 1521 – 1536

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Mess among disciplines: interdisciplinarity in environmental research

Andrew Donaldson, Neil Ward, Sue Bradley

Received 27 November 2009; in revised form 11 March 2010

Abstract. This paper discusses interdisciplinary collaboration between social and natural scientists from the perspective of ‘mess’. The literature on interdisciplinarity has generated a series of conventions about what it means to conduct interdisciplinary research. Building on the experience of a research project that brought social and natural scientists together with local residents to study flooding, we argue that interdisciplinarity can be understood as a response to mess, to the irreducibly complex problems of the world. Mess can be dealt with as an epistemological or ontological problem. We argue that discursive conventions focus on the epistemological dimensions of mess and thus have their limits. By considering the ontological dimensions of mess the whole range of objects that are involved in interdisciplinary research is brought into focus.

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