“A Multi-level Life Course Model of Boundaries in Knowledge Production”
Projects spanning multiple disciplines (e.g., interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary research) have been examined and evaluated in ways that are substantially under‐theorized. We propose a dynamic model of how disciplinary boundaries are constructed, maintained and crossed, as a means to identify how research fields change as they develop. This model offers three improvements over previous research on disciplinarity by: (1) explicitly identifying the dimensions along which disciplinary integration takes place; (2) accounting for temporal dynamics in the evolution of research fields across those dimensions by adopting a life course perspective of change; and (3) resolving tensions in previous models by accounting for disciplinary (lack of) integration that varies across multiple levels. To empirically investigate this model, we employ a combination of bibliographic coupling networks and topic models of scientific abstracts. We identify observed trajectories within the model from research on demography, religion and HIV/AIDS. These examples demonstrate how the proposed model advances both our understanding of interdisciplinary dynamics, and the ability to evaluate their successes.