Developing interdisciplinary research

In the past decade, the IAS instigated a range of activities focused on advancing reflexive understandings of interdisciplinarity. The aim was to to assist colleagues in navigating the challenges of doing interdisciplinary research, and to contribute to wider debates on this topic. The page collates some key resources that we hope colleagues will find useful.

IAS Fellow, anthropologist Penny Harvey at the Navigating Interdisciplinarity workshop.

Navigating Interdisciplinarity

Building on earlier ethnographic research on interdisciplinarity, former IAS Director Veronica Strang and anthropologist Sandra Bell developed an experimental workshop, Navigating Interdisciplinarity. This introduced IAS Fellows and Durham scholars to key issues in interdisciplinary research, and explored ways to tackle these creatively.

Durham Bluff, Epiphany 2013. The Visiting (IAS Fellows) Team: Robert Hannah, Mary Manjikian, and Jerry Moore.

Alongside the workshop, further understanding (and social bonding) was enabled by a lighthearted evening entertainment, Durham Bluff, a game – loosely – intended to encourage conversations about specialised disciplinary jargon.

Durham Bluff Michaelmas 2012. The Home Team: Andrea Noble, Andrew Millard and Felicity Callard.

Key Principles for Interdisciplinary Research

In March 2015 the IAS hosted a two-day workshop, Valuing and Evaluating Interdisciplinary Research to collaborate with experts on interdisciplinary research from the UK funding councils and other Universities. The aim was to articulate some key principles for conducting and evaluating interdisciplinary research. The resulting report Evaluating Interdisciplinary Research: a practical guide has been widely used, nationally and internationally, as universities, funding councils, publishers and journals seek to improve capacities to support interdisciplinary research and evaluate its outcomes.


A series of IAS sponsored publications  have addressed the ways in which interdisciplinary research requires overarching (or underpinning) theoretical framing. ‘Meta-discursivity’ enables diverse disciplinary areas to articulate shared research questions, and to develop joint methodological approaches. Key extracts on meta-discursivity and methods can be found here, and related publications are listed below.


The IAS has also hosted conferences exploring reflexive issues, for example, in 2014, Transformation and Transfusion, the creative potential of interdisciplinary knowledge exchange.

Interdisciplinary Reflexivity in Research Themes

The IAS’s past annual research themes have provided multiple opportunities to expand the IAS’s reflexive work on interdisciplinarity. A key element of successful interdisciplinary research is that it should be more than the sum of its parts in creating new knowledge. Thus the IAS’s 2014/15 research theme of Emergence enabled some reflexive thinking about how novelty emerges from interdisciplinary collaboration.

Disciplines have very different ideas about what they consider to be evidence. In 2015/16 the IAS hosted a theme year on Evidence enabling reflection on what disciplines treat as data, or material for analysis, and how these very different objects of study might be brought together methodologically. This theme was also the focus of the IAS’s 2016 Decennial Conference Evidence On Trial: weighing the value of evidence in academic enquiry, policy and everyday life.

Collaborating across disciplinary boundaries entails reconciling data or material with major differences in temporal and spatial scales. As well as examining this as a general research topic, the IAS’s theme year on Scale enabled some reflexive exploration of how diverse scales can be encompassed in interdisciplinary research.

Similarly, a year focused on the theme of Structure traversed different disciplinary methods and concepts for understanding structural relationships, compared structural methods of analysis, and considered ways to extrapolate ideas about structure between disciplines. 

As well as providing common ground for interdisciplinary research teams, the IAS’s annual research themes have therefore enabled reflexive work that continues to inform its efforts to support interdisciplinary research. Some brief extracts about this work can be found here. Further details about the IAS’s past annual research themes and sub-theme projects are in our Decennial celebration volume, Transforming the Way We Think.

Research Conversations and Theme Scoping Meetings

Many interdisciplinary projects at the IAS begin with a ‘research conversation’: a meeting of people with shared interests intended to explore possible avenues for collaboration. Some are initiated by requests from colleagues, or in response to funding calls; others are arranged to explore particular research themes. A successful research conversation will involve a diverse range of disciplines, and will enable preliminary exchanges of knowledge between them. In general, they are followed by project development meetings; (hopefully) successful funding bids; collaborative research, and publications/other outputs.

One such endeavour, conducted as a public event during a year when the IAS Annual Theme was Light, led to an experiment to try to capture in text an interdisciplinary conversation, and its capacities to transform the thinking of its participants. From the Lighthouse (Strang, Edensor and Puckering 2016) brings together very diverse disciplinary views on lighthouses, and as this extract suggests, seeks to demonstrate the value of interdisciplinarity by ensuring that its readers, having engaged with multiple perspectives, cannot help but see the topic in a new light.

References – IAS Publications

Strang, V., Edensor, T. and Puckering, J. (eds) 2018. From the Lighthouse: interdisciplinary reflections on light, London: Routledge.
Strang, V. (ed) 2016. Transforming the Way We Think, Durham University: Institute of Advanced Study.
McLeish, T. and Strang, V. 2016. ‘Evaluating Interdisciplinary Research: the Elephant in the Peer-Reviewers’ Room’, in Palgrave Communications. August 2016. DOI 10.1057/palcomms.2016.55
Strang, V. and McLeish, T. 2015. Evaluating Interdisciplinary Research: a practical guide, Durham: Durham University, Institute of Advanced Study.
McLeish, T. and Strang, V. 2015. ‘Recognising the Value of Interdisciplinary Research’, Research Fortnight, e-publication. August 5th, 2015.
Strang, V. and McLeish, T. 2015. ‘How to Value Interdisciplinary Research’, TheConversationUK, e-publication.
McLeish, T. and Strang, V. 2014. Leading Interdisciplinary Research: transforming the academic landscape, Stimulus Paper, The Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.
McLeish T. and Strang, V. 2014. ‘Interdisciplinarity should be at the Heart of the Academy’, TheConversationUK, e-publication.
Strang, V. 2009 [2007]. ‘Integrating the Social and Natural Sciences in Environmental Research: a discussion paper’, in Journal of Environment, Development and Sustainability. 11 (1) pp1-18.
Strang, V. 2006.A Happy Coincidence? Symbiosis and synthesis in anthropological and indigenous knowledges’, in Current Anthropology. Vol 47. No 6. pp 981-1008.
Strang, V. 2006. Social Ecohydrology: integrating the social and natural sciences, Research Paper prepared for Scientific Advisory Committee, UNESCO International Ecohydrology Programme.


IAS Workshops and Conferences

Strang, V. 2017. Anthropology and Engineering, in collaboration with anthropologists and engineers from School of Advanced Research, Santa Fe, University of Florida, Manchester University, UCL and Newcastle University. Workshop, May 22nd-25th, Durham University, Institute of Advanced Study.
IAS. 2017. The Human Mind, in collaboration with Colin Blakemore and Mattia Gallotti and The Human Mind Project at the School of Advanced Research, London. Workshop, May 11th-12th. Durham University, Institute of Advanced Study.
Strang, V. 2016. Collaborative Evidence: the role of research institutes in supporting successful interdisciplinary approaches to evidence, Co-convened with Brad Gregory. Conference Roundtable at the Decennial Conference of the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University.
IAS. 2016. Evidence On Trial: weighing the value of evidence in academic enquiry, policy and everyday life, July 12th-14th, 2016, Durham University.
Strang, V. 2016. Interdisciplinary Research, Panel for Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies Workshop, Interdisciplinarity in Nineteenth-Century Studies, Durham University, February 16th, 2016.
Strang, V. 2016. Re-imagined Communities: pooling evidence on human-non-human relations in river catchment research.  Conference Roundtable at the Decennial Conference of the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University.
Strang, V. and McLeish, T. 2015. Valuing and Evaluating Interdisciplinary Research, in collaboration with Tom McLeish. A two-day workshop for RCUK and related organisations. Durham University, March 23rd-24th, 2015.
IAS. 2014. Transformation and Transfusion, the creative potential of interdisciplinary knowledge exchange. International conference, Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, July 15th-17th 2014.
Strang, V. 2014. Mind and the Other, Workshop, in collaboration with Hearing the Voice project and the University of Helsinki, Sept 10th, 2014.
Strang, V. 2009. The Political Ecology of Social and Natural Science Research on Water, Seminar. Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, November 18th, 2009.


Further reading on interdisciplinarity

Barry, A., Born, G. and Weszkalnys, G. 2008. ‘Logics of Interdisciplinarity’, in Economics and Society, 37: 20–49.
Barry, A. and Born, G. (eds.) 2013. Interdisciplinarity: reconfigurations of the social and natural sciences. London and New York: Routledge.
Belcher, B., Rasmussen, K., Kemshaw, M. and Zornes, D. 2015. ‘Defining and assessing research quality in a transdisciplinary context’, in Research Evaluation, 1-17.
Brewer, G, and Stern, P. (eds) 2005. Decision Making for the Environment: social and behavioral science research priorities. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Brown, B. 2018. ‘Interdisciplinary Research’, in European Review, Vol. 26, No. S2, S21–S29.
Bruun, H., et al. 2005. ‘Promoting Interdisciplinary Research: the case of the Academy of Finland’, Publications of the Academy of Finland 8/05. Helsinki: Academy of Finland.
Callard, F., Fitzgerald, D. and Woods, A. 2015. Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Action: tracking the signal, tracing the noise, review article, Palgrave Communications.
Callard, F. 2015. ‘Feeling Fuzzy’, in D. Fitzgerald (ed) Rethinking Interdisciplinarity across the Social Sciences and Neurosciences, Basingstoke: Springer Nature.
Fitzgerald, D. 2015. Rethinking Interdisciplinarity across the Social Sciences and Neurosciences, Basingstoke: Springer Nature.
Frodeman, R., Klein, J.T and Mitcham, C. (eds) 2012. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Gasper, D. 2010. ‘Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinarity, Diverse Purposes of Research: theory-oriented, situation-oriented, policy-oriented’, in P. Thomson and M. Walker (eds) The Routledge Doctoral Student’s Companion, London, New York: Routledge.
Holbrook, B. 2013. ‘What is interdisciplinary communication? Reflections on the very idea of disciplinary integration’. Synthese. 190 (11): 1865–1879.
Land, R. 2011. ‘Crossing Tribal Boundaries: Interdisciplinarity as a Threshold Concept’ in Becher, T., Trowler, P., Bamber, V. and Saunders, M. (eds) Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines. 3rd edition. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.
Lash, N. 1996. Contemplation, Metaphor and Real Knowledge in Lash, N., The Beginning and End of Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Leach, J. 2005. ‘Being In-Between: art-science collaborations in a technological culture’, in Social Analysis, 49: 141-160.
Lee, R., Wallerstein, I, and Aytar, V. 2004. Overcoming the Two Cultures: science versus the humanities in the modern world-system, Boulder, Colorado; London: Paradigm Publishers.
Lovett, A. 2013. ‘Insights on Interdisciplinarity’, SPARKS Symposium: Interdisciplinary Research, Communication and Dissemination, St Hugh’s College, Oxford, 26th April 2013.
Lowe P and Phillipson J. 2009. ‘Barriers to Research Collaboration Across Disciplines: scientific paradigms and institutional practices’, in Environment and Planning A, 41 1171-1184.
Lowe P, Phillipson J, Wilkinson K. 2013. ‘Why Social Scientists Should Engage With Natural Scientists’, in Contemporary Social Science, 8 (3), 207-222.
Lyall, C., Bruce, A., Tait, J. and Meagher, L., 2011. Interdisciplinary Research Journeys:  practical strategies for capturing creativity, London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Lyall, C., Bruce, A., Marsden, W. and Meagher, L. 2013. ‘The Role of Funding Agencies in Creating Interdisciplinary Knowledge’, in Science and Public Policy, 40/1:62-71
Lyall, C., and Fletcher, I., 2013. ‘Experiments in Interdisciplinary Capacity Building: the successes and challenges of large-scale interdisciplinary investments’, in Science and Public Policy, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp. 1-7.
Lyall, C. and King, E. 2013.  International Good Practice in the Peer Review of Interdisciplinary Research, Report to the RCUK Research Group, October 2013.
Marzano, M., Carss, D, and Bell, S. 2006. ‘Working to Make Interdisciplinarity Work: investing in communication and interpersonal Relationships’ Journal of Agricultural Economics 57(2): 185-197.
Meyer, J. and Land, R. 2003. ‘Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledges: linkages to ways of thinking and practising’ in C. Rust (ed) Improving Student Learning: ten years on, Oxford: OCSLD.
National Academies of Science, USA. 2010. Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, Washington DC: National Academies Press.
—2015. Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science.
Research Evaluation 2006. Special Issue on IDR assessment, Research Evaluation, 15(1).
RELU (Rural Economy and Land Use). 2011.  Innovation in Interdisciplinary Methods: the RELU experience, RELU Data Support Service, University of Essex.
Schweitzer, F. 2003. Brownian Agents and Active particles: collective dynamics in the natural and social sciences. Berlin, London: Springer.
Somerville, M. and Rapport, D. (eds). 2000. Transdisciplinarity: recreating integrated knowledge. Oxford: EOLSS.
Strathern, M. 2004. Commons and Borderlands: working papers on interdisciplinarity, accountability and the flow of knowledge, Wantage: Sean Kingston.
—2005a. ‘Experiments in Interdisciplinarity’, in Social Anthropology, 13(1): 75-90. —2005b. ‘Anthropology and Interdisciplinarity’, in Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 4: 125-135.
—2008. ‘Knowledge Identities’, in R, Barnett and R. Di Napoli (eds) Changing Identities in Higher Education: voicing perspectives, London, New York: Routledge. pp 12-21.
Weingart, P. and Stehr, N. (eds) 2000. Practicing Interdisciplinarity, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Weingart, P. 2012. ‘A Short History of Knowledge Formations’, in R. Frodeman, J.T. Klein and C. Mitcham (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. pp 3-14.
Weingart, P. and Britta Padberg, B. 2014. University Experiments in Interdisciplinarity: Obstacles and Opportunities. Verlag.
Winskel, M. 2013. Report on SPARKS Symposium: Interdisciplinary Research, Communication and Dissemination, St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, 25-26th April 2013.