Interdisciplinarity and the social sciences: capital, institutions and autonomy




Recent discussions about disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity in the social sciences have tended to map and critique methods, theories and approaches to knowledge production, but spend less time exploring the ways in which institutional constraints and personal trajectories produce different kinds of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. In this paper we present findings on interdisciplinarity from UK research undertaken as part of an EC project on knowledge, gender and institutions. The research involved a small survey (n = 14), in-depth interviews (n = 5), two focus groups (n = 7) and observation of social scientists in one university department between June 2006 and April 2007. We reflect on the unwillingness of social scientists to confront the conditions of our academic labour in an account of our difficulties with gaining access and respondents in this study, before moving on to consider some of the different ways in which interdisciplinarity and disciplinary commitments were related to particular forms of scientific and symbolic capital. We go on to discuss this in relation to the autonomy of academic teaching-and-research staff compared to contract researchers, and consider the implications of our findings for the future of interdisciplinarity and the social sciences.