IDEAS: Interdisciplinary Dynamics in Emerging Areas of Science

In this project, I am working with Ryan Light (University of Oregon) to examine the characteristics of emerging research fields that fundamentally span across multiple disciplines. We draw on published research to examine the structures of coauthorship, citation and topical networks to identify patterns of cohesion and fragmentation within these fields. In combination, these analytic approaches allow us to identify patterns that contribute to (or inhibit) important scientific discoveries. Currently, this project has several inter-related aims.

  1. Formalize the theoretical linkage between interdisciplinary processes and boundary construction/maintenance within those fields.
  2. Describe the specific trajectories for a sample of problem-based fields that involve researchers from a variety of disciplines, as a way to fill out how that theoretical model operates in practice.
  3. Draw on that theoretical model to identify how actualized trajectories are selections from those possible routes as a more principled way to evaluate “successful” field-level integration.

This project started with a number of publications describing changes in the field of HIV/AIDS research over its first 20 years. Now, building on the methods developed in that case, and the theoretical framework it helped to spawn, we are also furthering the empirical scope of the project to include cases from research on COVID-19, demography, environmental studies/sciences, religion, population health, and neuroscience. This is evolving into a book project that we aim to have a completed draft of sometime in 2021, the beginnings of that argument are sketched out in this paper.

Early stages of this project were supported by a seed grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health and Society Scholars Program at Columbia University.


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