, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 3–8 | Cite as

The Second Essential Tension: on Tradition and Innovation in Interdisciplinary Research

  • Hanne Andersen


In his analysis of “the essential tension between tradition and innovation” Thomas S. Kuhn focused on the apparent paradox that, on the one hand, normal research is a highly convergent activity based upon a settled consensus, but, on the other hand, the ultimate effect of this tradition-bound work has invariably been to change the tradition. Kuhn argued that, on the one hand, without the possibility of divergent thought, fundamental innovation would be precluded. On the other hand, without a strong emphasis on convergent thought, science would become a mess created by continuous theory changes and scientific progress would again be precluded. On Kuhn’s view, both convergent and divergent thought are therefore equally necessary for the progress of science. In this paper, I shall argue that a similar fundamental tension exists between the demands we see for novel insights of an interdisciplinary nature and the need for established intellectual doctrines founded in the classical disciplines. First, I shall revisit Kuhn’s analysis of the essential tension between tradition and innovation. Next, I shall argue that the tension inherent in interdisciplinary research between, on the one hand, intellectual independence and critical scrutiny and, on the other hand, epistemic dependence and trust is a complement to Kuhn’s essential tension within mono-disciplinary science between convergent and divergent thought.


Thomas S. Kuhn Paradigm Incommensurability Scientific community Epistemic dependence Interdisciplinarity 



I would like to thank the Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities for funding for the project “Philosophy of Contemporary Science in Practice” and to Brian Hepburn for valuable comments to an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Science Studies, Department of Physics and AstronomyAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark

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