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Philosophy of Interdisciplinarity: Problem‐Feeding, Conceptual Drift, and Methodological Migration

  • Henrik Thorén
  • Johannes Persson
Publishing year: 2011
Language: English
Publication/Series: PhilSci Archive
Document type: Conference paper

Abstract english

One way to bring order into the often muddled picture we have of interdisciplinarity is to sort interdisciplinary projects or aims by the kinds of element that interact in encounters between researchers of the two or more disciplines involved. This is not the usual approach. Since the early seventies and the publication of Erich Jantsch (1972), at least, the level of integration of the disciplines has been the primary focus. For instance, the level of integration is often treated as the distinguishing boundary between multi‐, inter‐, and trans‐disciplinarity. We identify three kinds of interdisciplinary relation: problem‐feeding, conceptual drift, and methodological migration; we focus, in particular, on the first of these. Drawing on examples from the emerging field of Sustainability Science we show that problem‐feeding is a common and apparently fruitful way of connecting disparate disciplines. We illustrate some of the roles conceptual drift and methodological migration have in problem‐feeding as well as in their own right. Towards the end of the paper we suggest that there is an interesting difference between our approach to interdisciplinarity and the integrative perspective suggested by Jantsch. The interdisciplinarity resulting from problem‐feeding between researchers is typically local and temporary; integration is associated with a longer‐term, global form of interdisciplinarity.


  • Philosophy
  • theory change
  • philosophy of science
  • interdisciplinarity
  • sustainability science
  • problem-feeding
  • scientific integration


3rd Biennial Conference of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice, SPSP
2011-06-22 - 2011-06-24
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


P.O. Box 170, SE-221 00 Lund, Sweden
Phone: +46(0)46- 222 80 81
info [at] lucsus [dot] lu [dot] se