Imaginary friends - interdisciplinarity and digitalization as two imaginaries covering each other's back in times of uncertainty
Silvio Suckow (WZB Berlin Social Science Center)
Paper short abstract:
Based on expert interviews with PIs of a newly founded interdisciplinary institute on digital society this paper shows how scientists describe the two-year process of grant application. Therefore the PIs are cross-referencing the two imaginaries to enclose conflicts and legitimize the project.
Paper long abstract:
In research organizations all over the world interdisciplinarity and digitalization 'meet' to create scientific knowledge for digital futures. Hopes of politics are high towards the digitalization and the conjunction of different areas of society (e.g. energy and transport sector) as means for solving current 'grand challenges'. Based on expert interviews with PIs of a newly founded interdisciplinary institute on digital society in Berlin (Weizenbaum Institute) this paper shows how scientists describe the two-year process of establishing an interdisciplinary research agenda for digitalization. These scientists had to integrate political expectations, meet the demands of the scientific selection committee and conjunct the different disciplines into reasonable working entities to get funded. This paper suggests using the analytical approach of imaginaries (Jasanoff / Kim 2015) to disclose the influence of the two imaginaries interdisciplinarity ('how it should be done') and digitalization ('for what it should be done') on this process. Participating scientists involved in creating the grant application made use of one imaginary to convincingly illustrate how they will 'do' the other imaginary. This can be shown as a two-way street in the reasoning of the PIs and is proposed to be called 'imaginary friends'. The imaginary friends underpin each other in areas of uncertain knowledge. They are used by the PIs to create cohesion for the interdisciplinary group of researchers applying for funding and to legitimize the course of actions to the outside. The findings show how the cross reference of the two imaginaries can enclose conflicts under terms of uncertainty.
Scientific meetings across disciplinary boundaries