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Interdisciplinarity and the organisation of knowledge in Europe

244 pages
A Conference organised by the Academia Europaea, Cambridge, 24 to 26 September 1997
Research policy and organisation
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and the Organisation
of Knowledge in Europe
A Conference organised by
the Academia Europaea
Edited by Richard Cunningham European Commission
Edith Cresson, Member of the Commission
responsible for Research, Innovation, Education,
Training and Youth
Contact: Annette Paternostre
Address: Rue de la Loi, 200 SDME 2/152, B-1049 Brussels
Fax: (32-2) 299 42 07 Interdisciplinarity
and the Organisation
of Knowledge in Europe
A Conference organised by
the Academia Europaea
Edited by Richard Cunningham
Cambridge, 24-26 September 1997 Interdisciplinarity
and the Organisation of Knowledge
in Europe
edited by
Richard Cunningham
Cambridge, 24-26 September 1997 © 1999 European Communities
Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.
Published by
Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg
Printed in Belgium
on white chlorine-free paper
A great deal of additional information on the European Union is available on the Internet.
It can be accessed through the Europa server (http://europa.eu.int). Table of Contents
Editor's Note 7
Richard Cunningham
The Contributors 9
The Character of Interdisciplinarity
Margaret A. Boden, What is Interdisciplinarity? 13
The Historical Perspective
Jürgen Mittelstrass, The Historical Perspective 27
Walter Rüegg, Interdisciplinarity in the History of the European University 29
Debate 3
Raymond Boudon, The Historical Development of Interdisciplinarity 45
in the Social Sciences in Europe: the Case of Relations between
Economics, Psychology and Sociology-anthropology
Debate 6
Interdisciplinarity and the Organisation of Research
John Ziman, Disciplinarity and Interdisciplinarity in Research 71
Debate 83
David McConnell, Interdisciplinarity, Disciplines and the Brain (I) 87
Aaron Sloman, and the Brain (II)9
Derek Roberts, Interdisciplinarity in Industrial Research 9
Roger Bonnet, Space Research and Technology: an Example of Interdisciplinarity 9
Debate 11
Chris Rapley, Interdisciplinarity on a Global Scale: the International 115
Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
Debate9 Table of Contents
Alexander Plompen, Interdisciplinarity and Research Structures 121
Bengt Hansson, Trivial observations 125
Harry van der Laan, Interdisciplinary Research: its Assessment and Funding 127
Interdisciplinarity and Teaching
Jens Erik Fenstad, Interdisciplinarity in the Teaching of the Cognitive Sciences 133
Debate 14
Guido Martinotti, and the Social Sciences 149
Debate 177
Nigel Weiss, Interdisciplinarity in the Teaching of the Physical Sciences 181
Debate 189
Round Table: Interdisciplinarity and Public Policies in Europe
Antonio Ruberti, Interdisciplinarity and Public Policy in Europe 195
Jose Mariano Gago, Science Policy and Interdisciplinarity: a Minister's View 201
Michael Oborne, Science Policy and an Official's View
Chris Caswill, Inspiration and Issues: a Reflection on the Debate on 20
Interdisciplinarity from a Policy Perspective
Debate 21
Conclusions and Recommendations 231
Academia Europaea
Euroscientia Conferences5 Editor's Note
Richard Cunningham
The conference on which this collection is based attracted a wide range of views and degrees
of emphasis on the "problems" of interdisciplinarity, bringing together not only leading figures
from different academic disciplines but, of equal importance, both people with responsibility
for developing policies which have an influence on this subject, and others who have the
responsibility for implementing them, either directly or at arm's length. Some, of course, wear
both hats. With the international element added in, the result was a stimulating intellectual
event which it is the editor's duty to try to reflect in these published proceedings.
The aim has been to produce a readable and challenging book, one which accurately reflects
the arguments and ideas expressed, but not simply a verbatim transcript of proceedings. It is
not necessarily an easy task to achieve this in a coherent and consistent way, given the
diversity of the question and comment sessions which followed the prepared papers. Debates
occasionally move away from the ostensible theme of a session or paper, and questions
posed may not always receive the direct answers they seek to elicit, but all the same provoke
valuable comments which it would be unfortunate to overlook or omit. It is hoped that the
solution and style adopted here will prove acceptable both to those who contributed to the
conference and the book, and to other readers.
Wherever possible, views expressed in debates are attributed to individuals, but in some cases
this has regrettably not been possible, through an inability either to identify speakers at the
time or retrospectively with the benefit of transcripts. In no cases, however, are they editorial
interventions or inventions. As with any book of this kind, some questions remain
unanswered, and some unasked. It might, for example, have been interesting to have explored
further whether the Cambridge collegiate system, which on paper appears to create excellent
circumstances for interdisciplinary work, in practice can be shown to promote it significantly
more than more usual types of institution manage to do. Similarly, several contributors
mention the importance of individual commitment to an interdisciplinary approach, so
perhaps it would have been worthwhile discussing ways in which the open intellectual attitude
which reflects that commitment might be encouraged from an early stage of all students'
development, even while they inevitably specialise in one area of knowledge or another.
Time, however, plays as great a part in governing the content and length of debates as the
intrinsic merits and interest of the papers themselves, so a number of issues of interest do not Richard Cunningham
receive the depth of attention that many would have liked. Nevertheless it is hoped that this
mixture of papers long and short, prepared and more or less impromptu, will stimulate further
debate on a theme whose significance is likely only to increase.
The concrete outcome of the conference, apart from this present volume, is a "statement"
containing 14 points. A draft of the statement was available at the conference, and in the light
of participants' comments, it was revised and a definitive text agreed by the Council of the
Academia Europaea. It was then widely distributed to ministries and other agencies in the
fields of education and research in Europe. The Academia Europaea hopes that this
document will play an influential part in raising their awareness of the issue and in devising
concrete measures to overcome the problems of interdisciplinarity. A full text of the
Statement is included in this book.
This conference was held in Cambridge from 24 to 26 September 1997, with the support of the
European Commission, the Economic and Social Science Research Council, the Engineering
and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Churchill College of Cambridge.