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Second-Order Science of Interdisciplinary Research: A Polyocular Framework for Wicked Problems

Hugo F. Alrøe & Egon Noe

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Context: The problems that are most in need of interdisciplinary collaboration are “wicked problems,” such as food crises, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development, with many relevant aspects, disagreement on what the problem is, and contradicting solutions. Such complex problems both require and challenge interdisciplinarity. Problem: The conventional methods of interdisciplinary research fall short in the case of wicked problems because they remain first-order science. Our aim is to present workable methods and research designs for doing second-order science in domains where there are many different scientific knowledges on any complex problem. Method: We synthesize and elaborate a framework for second-order science in interdisciplinary research based on a number of earlier publications, experiences from large interdisciplinary research projects, and a perspectivist theory of science. Results: The second-order polyocular framework for interdisciplinary research is characterized by five principles. Second-order science of interdisciplinary research must: 1. draw on the observations of first-order perspectives, 2. address a shared dynamical object, 3. establish a shared problem, 4. rely on first-order perspectives to see themselves as perspectives, and 5. be based on other rules than first-order research. Implications: The perspectivist insights of second-order science provide a new way of understanding interdisciplinary research that leads to new polyocular methods and research designs. It also points to more reflexive ways of dealing with scientific expertise in democratic processes. The main challenge is that this is a paradigmatic shift, which demands that the involved disciplines, at least to some degree, subscribe to a perspectivist view. Constructivist content: Our perspectivist approach to science is based on the second-order cybernetics and systems theories of von Foerster, Maruyama, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, coupled with embodied theories of cognition and semiotics as a general theory of meaning from von Uexküll and Peirce.

Key words: Perspectivism, semiotics, complex phenomena, social systems theory, differentiation of science, perspectival knowledge asymmetries.


Alrøe H. F. & Noe E. (2014) Second-order science of interdisciplinary research: A polyocular framework for wicked problems. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 65–76. http://constructivist.info/10/1/065

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