Wicked Problems & Second-Order Science

Notes on Notes on “Second-Order Science of Interdisciplinary Research: A Polyocular Framework for Wicked Problems.”

The problems that are most in need of interdisciplinary cooperation are
“wicked problems” such as food crises, climate change mitigation, and other resilience and sustainability problems (Klein 2004). Wicked problems are complex problems where there is disagreement on what the problem actually is, there are different interests and different perspectives involved that frame the problem differently, and proposed solutions often contradict each other (Rittel & Webber 1973). . . . This means that the wicked problems of today both require and challenge interdisciplinarity.

Alrøe, H. F., & Noe, E. (2014). Second-Order Science of Interdisciplinary Research: A Polyocular Framework for Wicked Problems. Constructivist Foundations, 10(1), 65–95.

Interdisciplinary studies have generally been developed as complementary to the development of specialized disciplines, based on the need to understand complex issues, answer complex questions and solve complex problems (e.g., Klein 1996, 2004; Moran 2010; Repko 2012). But the epistemological aspects are rarely considered within the field where we might expect it, the philosophy of science, though philosophers of science have recently begun to focus more on the interaction of epistemic and social practices (Krishnan 2009: 19).

We argue that the existing approaches to cross-disciplinary research are problematic because they remain first-order. This can be in the form of independent and uncoordinated research perspectives on a given problem, a patchwork of coordinated but still separate research perspectives, a synthesis through the lens of a hegemonic discipline (such as, often, economics), or a synthesis based on a new integrated discipline (such as first-order system theories)

. . . .

The perspectivist view of science implies that there are many scientific truths about any complex problem, and the question is not how to select the correct one, but how to appreciate and use the “nonunifiable plurality of partial knowledges” (Longino 2006: 127). But no real perspectivist methodology has so far been developed to handle the challenge of interdisciplinary science in this line of work.

. . .

the paradox of scientific expertise becomes evident: that the growth of scientific knowledge leads to a fragmentation of scientific knowledge (Alrøe & Noe 2011).

I’ve thought a lot of this paradox, and I’ve written about it in this article and this article; it is the inevitable problem of specialization. This is all about functional differentiation and the division of labor. Specialization has been described as “knowing more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing.” This also part of George Simmel’s “Tragedy of Culture.”

To be continued . . .


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