ABSTRACT

The concept of interdisciplinarity arose in the early 1920s as a reaction to the positivistic reorganization of knowledge, which was parcelling it into discrete and partially isolated research traditions and programmes (see for instance Frank, 1988). The notorious Konrad Lorenz’s remark about ‘the specialist [who] knows more and more about less and less’ is an apt synthesis of these concerns. Nonetheless, the debate came from afar, in the long reflection about the nature and status of knowledge which has characterized the history of scientific thought ever since Aristotle (Moran, 2010). Despite this longstanding reflection, epistemologists still appear to be rather dubious about how to define interdisciplinarity, besides some general observation about the importance to promote dialogue and cooperation among different research fields (Frank, 1988; Jacobs and Frickel, 2009). Indeed, reviewing the contemporary literature on interdisciplinarity, it is difficult to file away the feeling that behind the interest in the topic sometimes resides the need to produce a new specialization, a field of ‘interdisciplinary studies’ which ultimately behaves like a new discipline. While Hansson claims that ‘most breakthroughs of long lasting importance have been the result of cross fertilization between different scientific disciplines and traditions’ (Hansson, 1999: 339), he also observes that ‘ironically [those] that have been truly successful have created new disciplines or radically changed old ones so that we tend back towards unidisciplinary research once again’ (Hansson, 1999: 339-40). In point of fact, evoking interdisciplinarity as a prerequisite does not seem to overly change the logic by which methodology – that is a system of analysis defined and defended within a specific research tradition – is the framework that defines what kind of problems have to be addressed and which rules one is supposed to apply to them.