Crossing over to the future: Interdisciplinarity in research and higher education#

Dates: Thursday 18 - Saturday 20 May 2017
Venue: Wenner-Gren Center, Stockholm, Sweden

To register, download the registration form(info), fill it in and return it by email to Academia Europaea -
Closing date for registration: 1 March 2017.

Background of the conference#

More than fifty years has passed since C.P. Snow in his famous Rede Lecture of 1959 (Snow, C.P. 1964) on the ‘two cultures’ stressed the duality of the natural sciences and the humanities as a seemingly self-evident reality organizing academic production of knowledge. Snow argued that the university was a divided community with radically different cultures and languages. As is well known, his views have been greatly quoted, challenged and criticized. However, over the decades the contemporary research landscape can no longer be mapped by simple dichotomies. Today the concept of ‘interdisciplinarity’ has slowly but surely come to the forefront of research interests and is seen as leading the way to answering major research questions, often known as the Grand Challenges, that mankind faces today.

When one views what at present comes most frequently under the heading of the Grand Challenges (climate change, water resources, multiculturalism, migration, energy supplies, etc.) the two most dominant characteristics of this kind of research are encapsulated in the concepts of Inter/Multi/Transdisciplinarity (in the following mentioned as Interdisciplinarity) and the Global Dimension. This stems from the global nature of the Grand Challenges themselves and from the fact that they do not easily fit within the traditional disciplinary boundaries. The complexity implied by interdisciplinary research challenges both research and education within all research domains. Interdisciplinarity in many ways poses challenges both to research and education in all domains of research. The complex nature of crossing boundaries and integrating different lines of thought brings to the forefront a reconceptualization of research itself as well as the education necessary for it. It is not possible to mention all the great thinkers that have stressed and developed the notion of ‘interdisciplinarity’ over the decades. However, it is necessary to mention the work of Jürgen Mittelstraß (1982), who advocates the necessity of transforming ‘empirical knowledge’ into ‘orientational knowledge’ which is by definition culturally defined and socially implemented. Also, the work of Nowotny, Scott and Gibbons (2001) on what is called Mode 2 knowledge production, that is, knowledge production seen as a process for which people come together in temporary networks to work on specific problems in the real world.

No matter whether ‘interdisciplinarity’ is knowledge-led (research driven), risk (crisis) induced or chal-lenge-driven, ‘interdisciplinarity’, the basic requirement for scholarly engagement across all research domains is the capacity to adapt a fundamentally open and experimental approach to disciplines, research questions as well as their potential for addressing societal issues. Therefore, ‘interdisciplinarity’ not only aims at crossing the boundaries of disciplines, but is also a challenge for research governance, funding agencies and policy makers. It stresses the necessity of investing in high risk and curiosity driven research initiatives as key drivers for research advancement as well as the developing of new practices and criteria for evaluating research projects and results. However, gaps persist between the widespread rhetoric for support of interdisciplinarity and the realities of practice within the realm of research, the institutional environments in which this research should be carried out. Universities as a rule (with a few exceptions) have not implemented systematic reforms for lowering institutional barriers and creating favorable cultures for both research and education (Klein et al. 2001). With respect to this, experiment and risk often may be controversial principles in those environments that provoke constraints of a political and ideological nature, thus hampering the development of ‘interdisciplinarity’. The freedom to follow curiosity-driven research questions in relation to the Grand Challenges is not met with the same enthusiasm everywhere inside and outside the scientific community.

What also has to be recognized is the fact that a particular concentrated effort has to be made to bridge the divide between the hard sciences and the Social Sciences and the Humanities (SSH). This is crucial if we are to address the many-layered problems inherent in the Grand Challenges. Thus, the necessity of raising the level of awareness to bridge gaps and work across boundaries is very much felt throughout the entire research community. However, in turn, this underpins crucial necessities such as mutual understanding and respect especially between the hard sciences and SSH.

Organising committee#

Chair: Milena Žic Fuchs, Zagreb
Erik De Corte, Leuven
Lars Engwall, Uppsala
Liesbet Geris YAE, Liege
Svend-Erik Larsen, Aarhus
Bert Weckhuysen, Utrecht


Thursday 18 May 2017#

12.30-14.30 HERCULES Group meeting
14.30-15.00 Registration
15.00-18.00 Welcome and Opening

Britt-Marie Sjöberg, Chief Executive Officer of the Wenner-Gren Foundations, Stockholm,
Sierd Cloetingh, President of Academia Europaea, Utrecht,

Presentation of topic and programme by the Convenor
Milena Žic Fuchs, Zagreb,

Plenary: Interdisciplinarity across science - challenges and opportunities#

David King, Cambridge,

Bruce Brown, Brighton,

18.15-21.00 Welcome reception with buffet dinner, 23rd floor

Friday 19 May 2017#

*Please note: 30 minutes per presentation followed by 15 minutes for plenary discussion*


Session 1: Interdisciplinarity in research - obstacles and opportunities#

Chair: Erik De Corte, Leuven,

09.00-09.45 Jürgen Mittelstrass, Constance,

09.45-10.30 Bart De Moor, Leuven,

10.30-11.00 Coffee break

Chair: Jan Reedijk, Leiden,

11.00-11.45 Verena Winiwarter, Klagenfurt,
The other kind of research: Power, epistemological status and subject construction in cross- multi- and inter-disciplinary scholarship

11.45-12.30 Bert Weckhuysen, Utrecht,

12.30-13.30 Lunch


Session 2: From research to teaching - principles and programmes#

Chair: Svend Erik Larsen, Aarhus,

13.30-14.15 Pierre Lena, Paris,

14.15-15.00 Lars Engwall, Uppsala,

Structural Conditions for Interdisciplinarity

15.00-15.30 Coffee break

Chair: Theo D’haen, Leuven,

15.30-16.15 Carl Gombrich, London,

16.15-17.00 Amir Muzur, Rijeka,

Interdisciplinarity as a state of mind: how can individuals and societies reach it?

17.15-22.00 Departure from the Wenner-Gren Centre for boat trip and dinner

Saturday 20 May 2017#


Session 3: Interdisciplinarity and academic career path#

Chair: Liesbet Geris, Liege

09.00-09.45 Erin Leahey, Tucson,

09.45-10.30 Helen Bridle, Edinburgh,

10.30-11.15 Hans Op de Beeck, Leuven,

12.00-13.00 Concluding session

Chair: Milena Žic Fuchs, Zagreb,

Panel members:

Helen Bridle, Edinburgh,
Pierre Lena, Paris,

13.00 Lunch

Download the programme(info) (January 17, 2017)



To register, download the form, fill it in and return it by email to Academia Europaea -


Wenner-Gren Centre, Sveavägen 166, 113 46 Stockholm, Sweden, map: https:/
When you walk through the main entrance of the Wenner-Gren Centre, please turn to your left and go down the stairs.

List of Hotels (walking distance from the Wenner-Gren Center)#

Download the list of hotels(info)



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