Insights from the Large Grants Training Day:
Successfully negotiating interdisciplinary power relations:

A key piece of advice given at the Science in Culture Large Grants Training Day was the need for interdisciplinary researchers to recognise knowledge politics.This theme of power relations between disciplines was something that came up in Joëlle Proust’s presentation at the Large Grants Training Day. In fact successfully negotiating disciplinary power relations seems like a critical factor when building relationships between Arts and Humanities researchers and Scientists as part of the Science in Culture Theme.

Balancing innovation and risk

Joëlle, who is based at the Institute Jean Nicod in Paris, and a holder of a large European Research Council grant, used her extensive experience of managing major interdisciplinary research projects to provide applicants with practical suggestions about negotiating relations a the team and preparing research proposals for interdisciplinary research bids assessed by a multi-disciplinary panel.

She urged applicants to select topics that are innovative but risky and to avoid merely extending their previous personal research. Partners are required to contribute key pieces of knowledge needed by other partners and to avoid ‘business as usual’.

Negotiating relationships across different academic fields

One of the key points she raised, based on her experience of working between the fields of Philosophy and Experimental Psychology, concerned the problems of negotiating dominant relationships between different academic fields and the repercussions for interdisciplinary publishing.

Reflecting on interdisciplinary projects she encouraged researchers to consider the problems if the Principal Investigator does or doesn’t represents the dominant research field. Non dominant PI’s might struggle to ensure the dominant partners complete their part of the project as expected while on the other hand dominant PI’s may not make the effort to use unfamiliar methods and terminology. At worst dominant PI’s might fail to acknowledge the part played by other disciplines when concluding a project. Achieving reciprocity when working across multiple disciplines is directly related to questions of power relations between different disciplines. Although there’s no easy answer, clear communication and establishing the parameters in advance can help a great deal.

Are interdisciplinary journals always successful?

She also touched on the minefield of interdisciplinary publishing. Referring to her own experience, she mentioned occasions in which researchers were unwilling to publish joint articles at the end of an interdisciplinary project, preferring instead to publish only in their own academic field in order to strengthen their CVs. Thoughts about the challenge of interdisciplinary publishing would be welcome if readers are prepared to share their experiences. Are interdisciplinary journals always successful?

So the key question is Can Arts and Humanities researchers successfully negotiate these challenges when working with colleagues in science? Professor Barry C Smith, the Leadership Fellow for the Science in Culture theme says, it is possible, but these are hard won. This blog post is part of a series that will document the workshops and activities taking place as part of the AHRC Science in Culture theme. The Science in Culture theme is a key area of AHRC funding and supports projects committed to developing reciprocal relationships between scientists and arts and humanities researchers.

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