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The philosophy of interdisciplinarity: sustainability science and problem-feeding

  • Henrik Thorén
  • Johannes Persson
Publishing year: 2013
Language: English
Pages: 337-355
Publication/Series: Journal for General Philosophy of Science
Volume: 44
Issue: 2
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer
Additional info: This work was supported by the Linnaeus programme LUCID (‘‘Lund University Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability’’ (, FORMAS, 2008–2018)

Abstract english

Traditionally, interdisciplinarity has been taken to require conceptual or theoretical integration. However, in the emerging field of sustainability science this kind of integration is often lacking. Indeed sometimes it is regarded as an obstacle to interdisciplinarity. Drawing on examples from sustainability science, we show that problem-feeding, i.e. the transfer of problems, is a common and fruitful-looking way of connecting disparate disciplines and establishing interdisciplinarity. We identify two species of problem-feeding: unilateral and bilateral. Which of these is at issue depends on whether solutions to the problem are fed back to the discipline in which the problem originated. We suggest that there is an interesting difference between the problem-feeding approach to interdisciplinarity and the traditional integrative perspective suggested by among others Erich Jantsch and his colleagues. The interdisciplinarity resulting from problem-feeding between researchers can be local and temporary and does not require collaboration between proximate disciplines. By contrast, to make good sense of traditional integrative interdisciplinarity we must arguably associate it with a longer-term, global form of close, interdisciplinary collaboration.


  • Philosophy
  • Jantsch
  • Sustainability science
  • Problem-feeding
  • Interdisciplinarity


  • LUCID - Lund University Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability
  • ISSN: 0925-4560
Henrik Thorén
E-mail: henrik [dot] thoren [at] fil [dot] lu [dot] se

Visiting research fellow

LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)



Theoretical Philosophy


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Phone: +46(0)46- 222 80 81
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