Building Multidisciplinary Research Fields: The Cases of Materials Science, Nanotechnology and Synthetic Biology
The paper questions both the disciplinary narrative and the interdisciplinary narrative through a re-examination of the status of disciplines in the actual practices of three different research fields: materials science and engineering which emerged in the USA in the 1960s, nanotechnology and synthetic biology, both of which became highly visible in the 2000s. Each of the cases under examination discloses a complex configuration of enabling conditions, more complex at any rate than any ‘master narrative’ of scientific change. While the master narratives suggest the existence of “a gravitational pull of disciplinary approaches and standards” followed by a kind of invisible hand that would gradually dissolve the boundaries between academic disciplines, I will argue that none of the opposite narratives – disciplinary and transdisciplinary – is adequate in light of the local configurations of these three new research fields. Despite the strong urge of science policy to create unstable research communities around specific research targets, a sense of disciplinary affiliation is still vivid and extremely resilient among, for instance, chemists.
KeywordsMode 1/Mode 2 Materials science Nanotechnology Synthetic biology Chemistry Science policy Disciplinary affiliation
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