December 28, 2009

Epistemological Pluralism

Epistemological Pluralism: Reorganizing Interdisciplinary Research

By Thaddeus R. Miller, Timothy D. Baird, Caitlin M. Littlefield, Gary Kofinas, F. Stuart Chapin III, and Charles L. Redman

Despite progress in interdisciplinary research, difficulties remain. In this paper, we argue that scholars, educators, and practitioners need to critically rethink the ways in which interdisciplinary research and training are conducted. We present epistemological pluralism as an approach for conducting innovative, collaborative research and study. Epistemological pluralism recognizes that, in any given research context, there may be several valuable ways of knowing, and that accommodating this plurality can lead to more successful integrated study. This approach is particularly useful in the study and management of social–ecological systems.

Through resilience theory's adaptive cycle, we demonstrate how a focus on epistemological pluralism can facilitate the reorganization of interdisciplinary research and avoid the build-up of significant, but insufficiently integrative, disciplinary-dominated research. Finally, using two case studies—urban ecology and social–ecological research in Alaska—we highlight how interdisciplinary work is impeded when divergent epistemologies are not recognized and valued, and that by incorporating a pluralistic framework, these issues can be better explored, resulting in more integrated understanding.

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