April 2016: Lunchtime Workshop – Practicing Collaborative Interdisciplinarity – Ways and Means (S96)

Thursday, April 21, 2016 from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM (BST)

Room 0.01 – Law School Building Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AX, United Kingdom

The central subject-matter of this short Law Lab @ Cardiff workshop is Collaborative Interdisciplinary Practice. We seek to develop a better understanding of what collaborative interdisciplinarity means in practice and to explore the promise and perils attending this kind of work. At theoretical level, the case for working with others from other disciplines seems fairly self-evident. For example, it heralds the promise of resolving ‘real world’ problems which fail to fit established disciplinary boundaries; research and projects which are the result of working with experts who possess the ‘know how’ in other fields can also help overcome some of the errors and misunderstandings that occur as a result of individual attempts to navigate alternative fields in which actors lack linguistic/ social immersion. Nevertheless, despite being a celebrated and encouraged form of practice, there is a growing body of literature which highlights the perils that await the interdisciplinary collaborative practitioner – the effort to bridge, bind or transcend disciplines raise fundamental epistemic, practical, institutional and emotional challenges which are not easily or quickly overcome.

Relevant to researchers and lecturers from any discipline, the current workshop is designed to facilitate a broad and critical conversation around these themes. As our conversation leads emphasise, Des Fitzgerald (Social Sciences), Jamie Lewis (Social Sciences), Sergio Pineda (Architecture), Nicky Priaulx (Law) and Martin Weinel (Social Sciences), an understanding of what collaborative interdisciplinarity entails, demands a closer scrutiny of how it translates into practice.

Numbers are limited. Please register to attend (Eventbrite) – lunch and light refreshments will be provided.  


Des Fitzgerald

Lecturer in Sociology, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University


In the contemporary academy, we do not lack for technocratic directives on what collaborative and interdisciplinary practice should be like. And yet there are rather fewer accounts of what such practice is actually like. We are, similarly, surrounded by bureaucratic exhortations to collaboration – but we hear rather less about what real, three-dimensional collaborative spaces actually look and feel like. In this short talk, drawing on my own experience of trying to work across the social sciences and neurosciences, I will argue that the emergence of a bounded interdisciplinary space (and practice), in the contemporary academy, is more a problem than it is a solution. Focusing on two themes that structure my own experience (the operation of power in collaborative space, and the emotional labour of holding interdisciplinary projects together) I will argue that, if interdisciplinarity is going to play the role than many wish for it, when we need to bring  much more intense conceptual and empirical investigation to bear on this emergent scene.


Des Fitzgerald is a lecturer in Sociology at Cardiff University. He is a sociologist of science and medicine, with a particular interest in the history and present of the neurosciences, and is currently pursuing a wide programme of research that limns the intersections of the social, human, and biological sciences. He has active research interests in mental health and urban life; in the autism spectrum, as it has been conjured by the neurosciences; in the history and present of ‘mind-wandering’; and in experimental, interdisciplinary approaches to social science. His first book, Rethinking Interdisciplinarity across the Social Sciences and Neurosciences (co-authored with Felicity Callard) is available from Palgrave Macmillan.

Jamie Lewis

SAGE Post-doctoral Research Associate, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University


Bioinformatics – the shotgun marriage between biology and computer science – is an interdiscipline. Despite interdisciplinarity being seen as a virtue, for having the capacity to solve complex problems and foster innovation, it has the potential to place projects and people in anomalous categories. For example, valorised ‘outputs’ in academia are often defined and rewarded by discipline. Bioinformatics, as an interdisciplinary bricolage, incorporates experts from various disciplinary cultures with their own distinct ways of working. Perceived problems of interdisciplinarity include difficulties of making explicit, knowledge that is practical, theoretical, or cognitive. But successful interdisciplinary research also depends on an understanding of disciplinary cultures and value systems, often tacitly understood by their members. Inside bioinformatics, its established parent disciplines have different value systems; for example, what is considered worthwhile research by computer scientists can be thought of as trivial by biologists, and vice versa. This paper concentrates on the problems of reward and recognition described by scientists working in academic bioinformatics in the United Kingdom. We highlight problems that are a consequence of its cross-cultural make-up, recognising that the mismatches in knowledge in this borderland take place not just at the level of the practical, theoretical, or epistemological, but also the cultural level as well. The trend in big, interdisciplinary science is towards multiple authors on a single paper; in bioinformatics this has created hybrid orfractional scientists who find they are being positioned not just in-between established disciplines but also in-between as middle authors or, worse still, left off papers altogether.


I am a SAGE postdoctoral research associate tasked with collecting and producing qualitative datasets to be published and used as a pedagogical resource on SAGE’s Research Methods (SRM) platform. These exemplars are designed to teach users how to analyse qualitative research using real data collected from the field. In addition to this, I conduct research into the Sociology of Science and Technology Studies and the Sociology of Biomedical research. In particular, my research areas of interest include: Developments in qualitative research, The sociology of biomedical knowledge with particular emphasis on the social implications of new genetic and stem cell technologies, Issues of culture, interdisciplinarity and collaboration in big science, The impact of public engagement on higher education and Aspects of practical accomplishment and modelling in the laboratory.

Sergio Pineda AADipl ARB

Architect and Lecturer, Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University


I’m interested in the collaboration between creative practice and fundamental science. At the moment I am the principal investigator for a 30-month project that sees a team of architects working with a team of crystallographers. The project proposes that designers and architects can learn from the structure of matter at the molecular level, and that structural features found at nanoscales are possible diagrams with multi-scalar potential. Over one million crystalline structures are catalogued in well-established data-bases, but remain largely inaccessible to designers and architects worldwide due to a lack of tools to translate the information into the digital systems used in design. This project is developing (i) an optimized search interface, (ii) a modelling base to translate the geometrical information into vector drawings, and (iii) a method for analysing and testing their suitability in design and architecture.


Sergio is an architect and lecturer with experience in forms of professional practice and research at the convergence of computation, fabrication, material science and emergent tectonics. He is drawn, increasingly, to the possibilities for collaboration between fundamental science and creative practice. After obtaining his Diploma from the Architectural Association in 2004, he worked for five years with practices in London (Foster + Partners, Adjaye Associates and Leit-werk) on a variety of award winning commissions including the Contemporary Art Museum in Denver, the new Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, and other projects in locations such as New York, Milan and Dubai. Through these and other commissions he gained substantial professional experience in the implementation of digital technologies in architecture and design. His current research includes a project funded by the Leverhulme Trust for which he is the principal investigator. The project is a collaboration with scientists in the field of crystallography, and brings together digitized tectonics, advanced manufacturing and spatial semiotics.

Nicky Priaulx

Reader in Law, Cardiff School of Law & Politics

Martin Weinel

Research Associate, Cardiff School of Social Sciences


How do actors across a range of academic fields understand, value and engage with the work of legal academics? How do other disciplinary actors conceptualise the usefulness, skills and expertise of the legal academic and the theoretical and practical relevance of law and legal scholarship for their own work? A growing body of literature highlights the critical importance of interdisciplinarity for law and justice. The issue has become more pressing in recent years due to the growth of scientific and technological innovation which draws into the adjudicative, legislative and policy realms areas of great scientific complexity for which legal training, in and of itself, proves insufficient (Weinel and Priaulx, 2014; Vick 2004; Schrama 2011). Such works also highlight the significant barriers and obstacles in lawyers ‘understanding’ other disciplines and the problems that can result. The same dangers confront non-legal disciplinary actors whose work engages with or is ‘dropped into’ law (Mertz, 2011). For the delivery of robust policy relevant research, while social interaction between disciplines proves critical, we consider a prior factor which may prove critical for the achievement of the collaborative interdisciplinary paradigm – foundational insight into alternative disciplines. Here we discuss our project ‘Multidisciplinary Understandings of Legal Academia’ funded by the British Academy which investigates how other disciplines regard the legal academy and the value of academic legal work and legal perspectives for their work. We present key themes emerging from a review of how legal academia and the legal academic emerge in popular culture, non-legal scholarship and the imaginaries of legal academics as to how they ‘think’ they are perceived. We also discuss the next stage of our work which involves a web-based survey of non-legal academics at Cardiff University. The aim of this work is to provide a critical foundation for developing strategies to cultivate collaborative interdisciplinarity and creative exchange between law and other disciplines.


Nicky is a Reader in Law in the School of Law and Politics. Nicky’s publications and project work illustrate a wide range of concerns, and engagement with actors from other disciplines and fields such as economics, the health sciences, science communication, philosophy, bioethics and science and technology studies. What binds together her work is an enduring fascination around the relationship between knowledge and the development of social and public policy. She is particularly interested in how different disciplines work together and the challenges involved in embracing insights from science (in particular, the behavioural and social sciences) to inform, amongst other fields, the legal project. Nicky is the lead for the forthcoming Institute of Advanced Legal Studies WG Hart 2016 Workshop, Valuing Expertise: Legal, Normative and Social Dimensions.

Martin is a Research Associate at the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University engaged in the IMGAME project that is funded with €2.26m by an ERC Advanced Grant. The main purpose of the project is to develop the Imitation Game method to make it useful for systematic social research. Inspired by the Turing Test, the Imitation Game is a new research method that can be used to measure and compare levels of so-called ‘interactional expertise’ in societies across space and time.  Interactional expertise is the expertise needed to speak the language of a particular social group fluently. A keen collaborator, Martin’s published work speaks to a variety of fields such as Studies in Expertise and Experience, science policy, science communication, legal studies, architecture and bioethics.