Unknowns in inter- and trans-disciplinary settings

Resource Type:

The problem of dealing with unknowns does not reside in any one discipline. Instead, it inhabits many disciplines. Nearly all disciplines and practice domains have perspectives on the unknown, and their perspectives employ methods ranging from mathematics to discourse analysis. These perspectives are, however, fragmented and specific to their discipline’s linguistic-conceptual frameworks. Thus, researchers and scholars have difficulty communicating across disciplines about the unknown. Even explicitly defined or technical concepts such as ‘probability’ or ‘risk’ may have distinct meanings in different disciplines. Likewise, a layperson’s construal of unknowns necessarily is culturally and historically specific, so that a culturally heterogeneous population of stakeholders may embody a heterogeneous set of perspectives on unknowns.

Cross-disciplinary undertakings require approaches to dealing with unknowns and also with the multiplicity of views about them. This video surveys the problems raised thereby, and methods for addressing those problems. The chief problems include:

1. Assessing epistemological trade-offs
2. Developing a common terminology and set of concepts
3. Overcoming “blind spots” about unknowns
4. Establishing methodological pluralism
5. Developing inclusive but productive discourses.

Video (30 minutes): “Dealing with unknowns in inter- and trans-disciplinary settings” presented by Michael Smithson was a plenary talk at the First Global Conference on Research Integration and Implementation held in Canberra in Australia, online and at three co-conferences (Lueneburg in Germany, The Hague in the Netherlands and Montevideo in Uruguay), 8-11 September 2013. The Microsoft PowerPoint presentation from the video is available as a  PDF (133KB).



Posted: November 2014
Last modified: June 2016