Re-disciplining Academic Careers? Interdisciplinary Practice and Career Development in a Swedish Environmental Sciences Research Center

Ruth Müller, Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Interdisciplinarity is often framed as crucial for addressing the complex problems of contemporary society and for achieving new levels of innovation. But while science policy and institutions have provided a variety of incentives for stimulating interdisciplinary work throughout Europe, there is also growing evidence that some aspects of the academic system do not necessarily reward interdisciplinary work. In this study, we explore how mid-career researchers in an environmental science research center in Sweden relate to and handle the distinct forms of uncertainty that arise from conflicting institutional and policy impulses. Our material suggests that interdisciplinary academics are often confronted with and at times themselves operate with a surprisingly dichotomous, value-laden view of their research practice. Disciplinarity is primarily associated with the ideals of scientific rigor, while interdisciplinarity becomes conflated with application-oriented work and a lack of ‘theory.’ We also draw attention to the underlying practical dynamics that reproduce this tension and entangle it with the very process of academic socialization. Specifically, we analyze the ambivalent consequences of the various work-arounds that researchers rely on to carve out opportunities for ongoing interdisciplinary research within heterogeneous funding landscapes. These tactics turn out to be undermined by the overriding normative power of formal career incentives at universities, which continue to emphasize the ideals of the individual high-performing academic who publishes in disciplinary journals and attracts the most selective grants. Under such circumstances, the work-arounds themselves become an insidious mechanism that allows researchers to stay in academia but systematically marginalizes their voices and epistemic ambitions in the process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-499
Number of pages21
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Academic career
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Science funding
  • Sweden


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