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Epistemological Pluralism: Reorganizing Interdisciplinary Research


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.