Archives For Interdisciplinarity

Author Information: Andrew Carlin, Manchester Metropolitan University,

Carlin, Andrew. “On the Practical Work of Citation: Foundationalism and (Inter)disciplinary Incommensurability.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 28-40.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:


Image credit: Jef Safi, via flickr

In this response[1] I would like to thank Pamela Moss for her careful attention to my work. I may disappoint readers hoping for some measure of controversy or opposition—Moss has produced a cogent set of arguments in response to my original article. I very much appreciate her comments, and I have followed up her references with profit. There are general and specific areas upon which we both agree.

If I can gloss Moss’ reply, she details instances in my observations on disciplinary borrowings—particularly in relation to Stefan Timmermans’[2] use of David Sudnow’s[3] book Passing On—where I was doing precisely what I suggested Timmermans had being doing with Sudnow. I was making the point that in the case of disciplinary borrowings, authors could do more to account for the epistemological positions of arguments that are taken in support of their current paper. This elicited Moss’ “Tu quoque!” (“You too!”) conclusion:

A more generally relevant expectation might be that the cited articles are fairly represented for the purposes of the citation and that the collected body of articles cited is appropriate to the interpretations and generalizations the citing author is making.[4]

Moss’ critique, that had I outlined both Sudnow’s and Timmermans’ objectives more clearly I may have reached a different conclusion about Timmermans’ use of Sudnow’s work, is fair and one with which I agree—up to a point.

On Referencing as Practical Work

Among the—but for purposes of publication, deliberately unstated—aims of my paper was in advancing a broader consideration of literature measurement systems: bibliometrics, citation analysis, informetrics. A problem for citation analysis is context: what is a particular citation doing at a particular juncture within an article.

In emphasizing the “purposes” of references and citations, Moss confirms my reading of Timmermans’[5] article as oriented towards Sudnow’s book for the substantive field “sociology of death/dying,” what I had called “the ‘reading list’ approach to sociology.”[6] I am not concerned that Moss discerns “many purposes for using the literature within research projects.”[7] Indeed, I am delighted that she recognizes this, for example in my own use of citations within the original paper[8]; so much of the scholarship on citation and referencing misses this key feature of academic writing. Of course I was not suggesting that the main, or the one and only purpose for using the literature is for the surfacing of an identifiable research problem.

The reification of citations as homogenous entities for the practical purposes of counting how many times an author’s work is cited decontextualizes the work being accomplished by the writer of the citing work. As bibliometrics becomes increasingly sophisticated and fragmented—identifying new “edges” of scholarly communication to be operationalized, and new measures for doing the operationalizing[9]—discussions of citation measurement, citation practices and the contextual bases of referencing from outside bibliometry (resisting disciplinary “ownership”) appear less frequently.[10] They are all the more precious in their scarcity.

Without distorting discussion with consideration of members’ motives—“official lists” of these have already appeared in information science[11]—we may observe how references are doing different, practical work. For example, and in no particular order:

  • For purposes of comparison, e.g. to establish that a phenomenon was observed in other settings also.[12] The concatenation of sources or accumulative appeal to other settings may be a form of persuasion (see below)
  • For purposes of comparison, e.g. that related or similar phenomena can be observed in other settings also (including citations of David Sudnow’s “Normal Crimes” paper[13]).
  • For purposes of comparison, e.g. may be positive or negative citations. Often found in literature review sections.[14] For example, references may be cited “to demonstrate the novelty of one’s results. This is often achieved by reviewing the current state of knowledge in an Introduction, and then showing or implying that the findings reported constitute an advance.”[15] (This is also a form of persuasion; see below)
  • Locating arguments—according credit to a previous paper[16]
  • Locating arguments—facilitating information retrieval, so that readers are able to pursue the inquiry into particular points of discussion (as Moss has been able to do in her reply, for instance)
  • Locating arguments—while this relates to according credit it may also work to disclaim responsibility, or spreading the blame; colloquially known as “CYA”[17]
  • Glossing arguments—using citations as “concept symbols”[18]
  • Persuasive devices—as Nigel Gilbert suggests, citations on their own may not be “tools of persuasion”. However, they can do persuasive work. For example, “respected papers may be cited in order to shine in their reflected glory even if they do not seem closely related to the substantive content of the report”[19]
  • “Recipient design”[20]—in submitting a manuscript to a journal, the author tailors some of the arguments, and references, as recognizable to the particular journal under consideration. This may involve having been “socialized” into a particular discipline; or, this may involve considerable guesswork, anticipating what the journal editors/reviewers find acceptable[21]
  • “Doing disciplinarity”—displaying affiliation with particular disciplines, or fields within disciplines. Citing particular bibliographic sets presents the paper as relevant to particular research interests; for example, physical geography but not necessarily human geography
  • Self-citation—this may be doing informative work; though self-citation may be rhetorical or used as an authorization procedure[22]
  • “Doing networking”—displaying membership within a research network[23]; or attempts to affiliate with a particular research network.[24]

This is not an exhaustive list of the work of citations and citation practices; there are considerably more possibilities—demonstrable and reportable—reviewed elsewhere.[25] It was not the remit of my original paper to explore all of these in detail but, suffice to say, I am aware of the complex issues arising from academic requirements and their measurement.[26]

Locating David Sudnow within Ethnomethodology

Whilst I take no umbrage with Moss’ observation that I may be misrepresenting Timmermans’ representation of Sudnow, I am less sanguine about the contextualization of Sudnow’s work—both in Timmermans’ article, and in my own article. This dissatisfaction extends beyond Passing On and across Sudnow’s corpus of studies: I had not sufficiently explained the connections that I recognize as features of Sudnow’s works, taken as a corpus; and how this corpus coheres with the ethnomethodological corpus.[27]

For reasons that may become clear, this is not the venue in which to revisit arguments that were merely glossed by references—as mentioned above, providing citations as glosses for arguments is another use of the literature, of course—in order to explicate my practical reasoning procedures regarding selectivity of items, and corpora, of literature, which are queried by Moss.[28] To borrow Harold Garfinkel’s phrase (that derived from his collaborations with Sudnow), these are “documented conjectures”—from lectures on ethnomethodology, conversations with ethnomethodologists, and my acquaintance with studies from the “ethnomethodological literature.”

One issue that I should have made more explicit is how my original argument was framed within a disciplinary history of ethnomethodology. Passing On was written at a particular juncture in the history of ethnomethodology. In 1966, at University of California, Berkeley, Sudnow and Harvey Sacks were awarded their doctoral qualifications. A group of Goffman’s students had moved away from Goffman’s work intellectually, and increasingly aligned themselves with Harold Garfinkel, then a junior professor at University of California, Los Angeles.[29]

In the acknowledgements section of his PhD dissertation, Sacks does not mention Goffman; instead, Sacks thanked Edwin Shneidman for facilitating access to the telephone calls at the Center for the Scientific Study of Suicide, Suicide Prevention Center, Los Angeles, which he had used as data; and he thanked Garfinkel for financial and intellectual support: “In acknowledging this support of his I may also say that it is but the most tangible and recent item on a long list of indebtedness I have to him.”[30]

Another source of disappointment for Goffman was how Sacks had written a dissertation very different from a ‘more-Goffmanian-style’ manuscript that Sacks had shown him in the early Sixties.[31] As Sacks’ dissertation supervisor, Erving Goffman was reluctant to sign off on Sacks’ doctoral dissertation. Famously, the Chair of the dissertation committee, Aaron Cicourel, intervened to authorize Sacks’ award.

Garfinkel, Goffman, Sacks and Sudnow are all dead, now; we cannot solicit their recollections of 1966. However, the possibility that Goffman resented Garfinkel’s intellectual affinity with his own students is inferentially available. If Goffman did feel this way, or if Sudnow perceived Goffman to be acting on these feelings, we should not be surprised by the sociological program that characterizes Passing On. Sudnow had already published an article critical of the use of data in traditional sociological methods[32]—whatever their considerations of members’ methods might become, Sudnow was contributing to its development.

When Moss[33] decries “I read Sudnow for explicit references to ethnomethodology. I read the preface, the introduction, the conclusion, the appendices, and all the headings and subheadings in the book, and could not find ‘ethnomethodology’ named,” it would have been extremely unlikely for Sudnow to have used the word “ethnomethodology” within the pages of his dissertation as it had only just been coined.[34]

Although Sudnow does refer to ethnomethodology. In answer to Moss’ specific query[35] the prefatory note is not in his dissertation but appears in the Prentice-Hall edition of Passing On:

I have benefited at various points in the conduct of the research from my discussions with Sheldon Messinger, Harvey Sacks, Roy Turner, and Helen Pat Gouldner. An earlier version of Chapter 4 was presented at a conference held by Harold Garfinkel of UCLA in the summer of 1965. My indebtedness to Professor Garfinkel will, I hope, be clear to those who know his work. I do not claim, however, that this study is well representative of ‘ethnomethodological’ sociology, though should that be at all true, I would be very pleased.[36]

One of the key phrases in this acknowledgement is “My indebtedness to Professor Garfinkel will, I hope, be clear to those who know his work.” Unlike Sacks’ acknowledgement of Garfinkel’s influence in his dissertation (above), this does not appear in Sudnow’s dissertation. It is a “noticeable absence”; and “those who know his work” recognize this as a noticeable absence.

The field-specificity of Passing On is not only available through the citations it contains.

“Epistemologies at the Disciplinary Level”:[37] Indifference and Incommensurability

Despite the ritualistic citations to Goffman contained in his thesis, Sudnow was part of the “ethnomethodological firmament”. As mentioned above, he had already published an “ethnomethodological” study[38]; and, after Passing On was published, he was a key advocate of ethnomethodology in an infamous panel discussion to debate its disciplinary place in sociology.[39]

A decade later, at Garfinkel’s encouragement, he published an ethnomethodological study of competence—playing jazz piano—that can be seen as an early expression of Garfinkel’s “studies of work” program. Garfinkel’s procedural policy of “ethnomethodological indifference,” which discouraged literature use as a formulaic requirement of studies, made it possible for Sudnow “to realize the consequences of allowing the keyboard, and not an academic discipline, to tell me where to go.”[40]

To reiterate, my detailing of Sudnow’s books and papers in the original article were not geared toward idle recitation of references but were warranted by the reticulation of intellectual concerns that made up the corpus of Sudnow’s work, and how these cohered with the developing corpus of ethnomethodological studies. This is but one of the instances of item of literature/corpus of literature to which I was referring in the original arguments, and which Moss found problematic. Yet I make no apologies for reading Sudnow this way. However, Sudnow disputed Garfinkel’s presentation of “ethnomethodological indifference.”[41]

As a methodological policy, qua phenomenological bracketing, ethnomethodological indifference enabled the analyst to focus on a phenomenon without the distraction of “related literature,” which both set the “terms and determinations”[42] of the analysis and necessarily distanced the analyst from the phenomenon of interest. Sudnow appreciated how non-ethnomethodologists could understand “ethnomethodological indifference” as code for a Weberian attitude of “value-free” inquiry; even “objectivity” (something which, following Felix Kaufmann[43] on the protocols and standards of acceptability in social science, Garfinkel did not intend); or worse, for Sudnow, as being “indifferent” to iniquities and inequalities.[44]

To be clear, “ethnomethodological indifference” was not an ethical (or non-ethical) position but a methodological procedure. Even though Garfinkel’s work is characterized by a compassionate advocacy of those in adversity[45]—Garfinkel certainly was not indifferent to circumstances—Sudnow would never reconcile himself to what he regarded as a significant error of judgement on Garfinkel’s part.[46]

Ethnomethodologists have not been shy of taking up traditional sociological topics, such as racism, power, and inequality. It is a misrepresentation of ethnomethodological investigations to claim otherwise. That ethnomethodology has addressed topics in different ways is undeniable, however; yet this is not the same as being “indifferent” to such matters. As I said in my original article,[47] for instance, power has been approached as an in situ, collaborative activity.[48] This is to be contrasted with traditional representations of power in anthropological and sociological approaches.[49] Moreover, the topical relevance of studies brings me to another note of contention for Moss, regarding the appropriateness of the word “traditional” as a generalizing description of sociology.

My use of the word “traditional” does not connote “classical,” as Moss assumes in questioning its contemporary relevance.[50] “Traditional” does not compartmentalize work in pro tempore or chronological fashion. “Traditional” is not setting an arbitrary temporal marker between, say, Nineteenth Century sociology, or pre-War sociology, or pre-Nineteen Sixties sociology; versus Postmodern sociology, post-Nineteen Seventies Sociology, or Twenty-First Century sociology. Not at all. My use of the word “traditional,” as I have consistently used it, reflects or has equivalence with “professional sociological theorizing,” or “constructive analysis” (and, later, “formal analysis”). However, I should recognize—and I thank Moss for drawing this to my attention—that these were and remain contentious adjectives, too.

To clarify my use of terms, “traditional” is intended to disambiguate forms of sociology, as “professional sociological theorizing,” in contrast to “radical” forms of sociology which seek to explicate members’ practical sociological theorizing. Abbott’s fractals analogy, which he uses to emphasise the fluidity of conceptual development,[51] does not address this.[52] Nor, to use Moss’ other example,[53] does Actor-Network-Theory (ANT).[54]

Moss’ specific question reads, “is ethnomethodology incommensurable with ANT in the same way it might be incommensurable [with] traditions reflecting the structure-agency dualism?” A short answer is “Yes.”[55] The structure/agency dualism is implicated in foundational forms of theorizing, which both Abbott[56] and Latour[57] reproduce. In taking a methodologically ironic stance vis-à-vis members’ practical decision-making activities they fail to dissolve the tensions set up by foundational theories. Moss draws attention to Bruno Latour, who “acknowledges [ANT’s] affinities with ethnomethodology,”[58] but how does Latour go about such acknowledgement? Through citation of “ethnomethodological” resources; and here we may return to the ad hoc list of work done through referencing, above.

Furthermore, a key criterion remarking “incommensurability” is the gestalt configuration of analytic approaches. Ethnomethodology seeks to explicate the in situ, in vivo, practical work of members’ activities. In striving towards such explication, the ethnomethodologist cannot be beholden to “foundational” (e.g. Cartesian) formal analytic positions because these theorize out the very praxeological details that are being sought. Hence, ethnomethodology “dissolves” foundational residue, such as the structure/agency dichotomy, as interference with the description of members’ practices. Likewise, Actor-Network-Theory proposes an unnecessary analytic distancing from members’ phenomena. As Sormani asks,

why ‘ontologize’? Why, as an ethnographer, ‘ontologize, ‘epistemologize’, or otherwise ‘theorize’ phenomena, instead of describing them in their self-identifying features?[59]

The ontological fetishism of ANT removes the analyst further from the distinctive details which are not only constituent features of practice, what Sudnow[60] once termed “describably elegant knowledge,” but are practice; whether that be managing the interactional work of running an auction, professional coffee tasting, or playing jazz piano.

The plenitude of references to ethnomethodology within the Latour text cited by Moss are footnoted asides to relevant sources,[61] not to necessarily commensurable sources. That is, Latour takes a “found relevance” approach to his citation of ethnomethodological sources, e.g. in his example of the user manual that came with the new digital camera[62] he references Garfinkel’s[63] discussion of assembling furniture according to the instructions. He collocates this citation to Garfinkel with reference to Donald Norman[64] on user-centred design. The cognitivism of Norman’s thesis is at odds with the praxeological line of argument advanced by Garfinkel—these are incommensurable approaches, that become proximal citations via a reading-list approach to substantive topics, but readers familiar with Norman and with Garfinkel are unlikely to be confused as to the “found relevance” or nature of Latour’s use of literature. Latour’s practices of citation are unremarkable, routine, and certainly do not suggest that ANT possesses analytic affinities with ethnomethodology.

Although, there are distinct differences, too. Moss is correct, I think, in speculating whether the nature of incommensurability—between ethnomethodology and various forms of sociology—differs, and this is a valuable point to explore. For instance, Latour[65] claims overlap with ethnomethodology regarding the notion of “accounts”. However, for Latour, accounts are reasons, justifications, verifications, excuses; in environments of uncertainty, accounts justify the certainty of action, e.g. as adequate or plausible in the circumstances. For ethnomethodology, actions—textual, verbal or otherwise—are accounts.

The give-away is Latour’s[66] epistemological contrast between natural science accounts and social science accounts: “This is why the question of what is a good account is so much more crucial for the social than for the natural sciences”[67]; and later in the same chapter, this is transformed into “a good text.”[68] For ethnomethodology, there are “accounts” but there is no continuum for adjudging the adequacy or plausibility of accounts, such as “a good account”; that is a member’s concept, not an analytic category. Latour’s notion of “account” has more in common with a symbolic interactionist notion of account[69] than ethnomethodology.

Indeed, while I regard Moss’ query about incommensurability as a valuable pedagogic opportunity it also seems misdirected, given that Latour[70] distances himself from Garfinkel’s gloss “formal analysis.” Garfinkel used the term formal analysis to sharpen the focus of his distinction between incommensurable approaches in sociology—what (as mentioned above) he had termed “constructive analysis”—and incommensurable approaches in the social sciences more broadly. Latour[71] misquotes Garfinkel, and through misquotation, understates Garfinkel’s original distinction, the “worldwide social science movement.” Garfinkel began to use formal analysis in preference to constructive analysis in order to emphasize that sociology was only one discipline among many which misaligned its phenomena of inquiry with analysts’ versions of members’ methods.[72]

Furthermore, while Moss[73] posits “affinities” between ANT and ethnomethodology, Latour’s claims on this matter are shallow. Latour’s attempted connection between “the quality of a text”[74] and the “unique adequacy requirement of methods”[75] does not set up “equivalence.”[76] The unique adequacy requirement, like ethnomethodological indifference, is a methodological policy. Like ethnomethodological indifference, the unique adequacy requirement does not distance the researcher from the phenomenon of inquiry. It thus distinguishes between studies of work that describe and produce phenomena of investigation.[77],[78]

I take Moss’ query regarding incommensurability seriously, and suggest that both the structure/agency dualism and ANT are incommensurable with ethnomethodology through producing “methodological irony”. Both foundational reasoning (e.g. theorizing which is an outcome or based upon a structure/agency dualism) and ANT preclude a praxeological orientation as an accountable, constitutive feature of research ab initio. The post hoc incorporation and/or triangulation of members’ practices creates conceptual confusion and category-errors. This characteristic of ANT and its formulation as a blend of ethnomethodology and semiotics is fundamentally flawed as a praxeological pursuit, regardless of Latour’s claims—and his referential practices—to the contrary.[79] As vividly formulated in another context,

These sets of analytic practices cannot be conflated any more than can the games of football and tennis be conflated to produce a ‘supergame.’[80]

In studies involving human action, both ANT and studies in foundationalist programs require the analyst to make the final (if analytically arbitrary) decision as to what is really going on. As Lynch argues, “the theorist’s monism frames the heterogeneous ontologies attributed to actors within the frame.”[81]

In summary, if I was setting up a “contrast set”—to borrow Dorothy Smith’s[82] phrase—it was between traditional sociology, which as I have hoped to clarify does not connote a temporal characterization but an epistemological characterization vis-à-vis members’ practices; and radical sociology, which seeks to explicate members’ practices without re-describing them in terms of analytically imposed categories.


In trying to provide an overall view, however, I want to emphasize that the ethnomethodological position on foundationalism (and anti-foundationalism) is methodological, not epistemological, philosophical, or theoretical. Indeed, much of the contestation of this issue has been quarried through the distortion or misunderstanding of ethnomethodology’s position as an epistemological rather than a methodological approach to the phenomena of sociology.[83] The “identifying details” of studies in ANT and Cartesian investigations vary, yes; and the respective identifying details have specific consequences for the realization of incommensurability.

Yet this should not distract us from the difficulties of programs of interdisciplinarity: intra-disciplinary approaches within sociology have a wide degree of “autonomy,”[84] which challenges assumptions of disciplinary coherence, let alone interdisciplinarity.[85]

Nor should this distract us from assembling a corpus of studies that instead of taking an evaluative approach to members’ phenomena, extrinsic to the settings of members’ practices; develops inquiries that seek to explicate members’ practices from within the settings in which they occur.


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[1]. I am grateful to Glenn Gillespie at UC Berkeley Libraries, for factual clarification; and especially to Rod Watson, for generous discussion of these issues, and for alerting me to analytic asymmetries within this Response.

[2]. Timmermans, “Social Death as Self-fulfilling Prophecy.”

[3]. Sudnow, Passing On.

[4]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 53.

[5]. Timmermans, “Social Death as Self-fulfilling Prophecy.”

[6]. Carlin, “On Some Limits of Interdisciplinarity,” 5.

[7]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 47.

[8]. Ibid.

[9]. Kozak and Bornmann, “A New Family of Cumulative Indexes for Measuring Scientific Performance.”

[10]. Bittner, “Citation Classic Commentary on ‘The Police on Skid Row”; Blackman, “Social Media and the Politics of Small Data”; Hertz, “Pimp My Fluff”; Stavrakakis, “Wallon, Lacan and the Lacanians.”

[11]. E.g. Bornmann et al., “What Factors Determine Citation Counts of Publications in Chemistry Besides their Quality?”; Weinstock, “Citation Indexes.”

[12]. Glaser and Strauss, The Discovery of Grounded Theory, 169, passim.

[13]. Cavan, Liquor License, 18; Cicourel, The Social Organization of Juvenile Justice, 55.

[14]. Carlin, “On Some Limits of Interdisciplinarity.”

[15]. Gilbert, “Referencing as Persuasion,” 116.

[16]. Merton, “Priorities In Scientific Discovery.”

[17]. Raymond L. Gold, personal communication.

[18]. Small, “Cited Documents as Concept Symbols.”

[19]. Gilbert, “Referencing as Persuasion,” 116.

[20]. Sacks and Schegloff, “Two Preferences in the Organization of Reference to Persons in Conversation and their Interaction.”

[21]. Myers, Writing Biology.

[22]. Falagas and Kavvadia, “‘Eigenlob’”; Fowler and Aksnes, “Does Self-Citation Pay?”

[23]. Hellsten et al., “Self-Citations, Co-Authorships and Keywords.”

[24]. Note for sociologists: this is a literal “reference group”!

[25]. E.g. Bornmann and Daniel, “What do Citation Counts Measure?”

[26]. Boellstorff, “Submission and Acceptance.”

[27]. Sudnow, Passing On.

[28]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 46.

[29]. Pace Moss (2016, 49), in my original article (Carlin 2016, 14, n. 13) I was clear that Erving Goffman, not Harold Garfinkel, was Sudnow’s dissertation supervisor.

[30]. Sacks, “The Search for Help,” ii.

[31]. This early manuscript was known informally as “the Police Paper” (Schegloff 1999), which Sudnow went on to publish (Sacks 1972).

[32]. Indeed, Sudnow’s “Normal Crimes” paper was described as one of “The most significant works on this subject” (Douglas, The Social Meanings of Suicide, 163).

[33]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 49.

[34]. Bittner, “The Concept of Organization.”

[35]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 49.

[36]. Sudnow, Passing On, v.

[37]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[38]. Sudnow, “Normal Crimes.”

[39]. Hill and Crittenden, Proceedings of the Purdue Symposium on Ethnomethodology.

[40]. Sudnow, Ways of the Hand, viii.

[41]. Sudnow, “An Ethno-autobiography of Teaching.”

[42]. Bittner, “The Concept of Organization,” 247.

[43]. Kaufmann, The Methodology of the Social Sciences.

[44]. Sudnow, “An Ethno-autobiography of Teaching.”

[45]. Garfinkel, “Color Trouble,” “Passing and the Managed Achievement of Sex Status in an Intersexed Person,” and “Instructions and Instructed Actions.”

[46]. Sudnow, “An Ethno-autobiography of Teaching.”

[47]. Carlin, “On Some Limits of Interdisciplinarity,” 14.

[48]. Sharrock and Button, “The Technical Operations of the Levers of Power.”

[49]. Moerman, “Life after C.A.”

[50]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[51]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[52]. My citation of Abbott’s work reiterates the variegated use of sources, as I had, for the purposes of the original article, only selected Abbott to establish the long-standing nature of interdisciplinarity. My citation was certainly not an endorsement of the book in toto, though many studies in citation analysis fail to disambiguate negative from positive citations, i.e. treat all citations as homogenous.

[53]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[54]. Latour, Reassembling the Social.

[55]. However, this direct affirmative shall be qualified below.

[56]. Abbott, Chaos of Disciplines.

[57]. Latour, Reassembling the Social.

[58]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[59]. Sormani, Respecifying Lab Ethnography, 234.

[60]. Hill and Crittenden, Proceedings of the Purdue Symposium on Ethnomethodology, 51.

[61]. E.g. footnotes 22, 49, 63, 97 in Latour, Reassembling the Social.

[62]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 205.

[63]. Garfinkel, “Instructions and Instructed Actions.”

[64]. Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things.

[65]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 205.

[66]. Ibid., 125.

[67]. Ibid., emphasis added.

[68]. Ibid., 129.

[69]. Scott and Lyman, “Accounts.”

[70]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 226.

[71]. Ibid., fn. 312.

[72]. A pedagogical heuristic of this argument is the phenomenological emphasis on distinguishing between resources for study and topics of study (Zimmerman and Pollner 1970).

[73]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[74]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 129.

[75]. Garfinkel and Wieder, “Two Incommensurable, Asymmetrically Alternate Technologies Of Social Analysis.”

[76]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, fn. 182.

[77]. Livingston, Ethnomethodological Foundations of Mathematics; Lynch, Art and Artifact in Laboratory Science.

[78]. Vide another example of the practical work of citation: Latour cites both of these studies of work in Reassembling the Social (pp. 59, 223) also; but he points to different relevances in citing them than I do in citing them together here.

[79]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 122.

[80]. Watson, “The Understanding of Language Use in Everyday Life,” 11.

[81]. Lynch, “Ontography,” 453.

[82]. Smith, “‘K is Mentally Ill’.”

[83]. Francis and Sharrock, “Where Ethnomethodology Stands.”

[84]. Sharrock and Watson, “Autonomy among Social Theories: The Incarnation of Social Structures.”

[85]. In my original article, I cited the demonstration of this problem (Greiffenhagen, Mair and Sharrock, “Methodological Troubles as Problems and Phenomena”), which, in its demonstration, attends to the “identifying details” of the autonomy of sociological strategies.

Author Information: Pamela Moss, University of Michigan,

Moss, Pamela. “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 9 (2016): 46-54.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:


Image credit: Lari Huttunen, via flickr

“Social issues come in complex forms rather than in presliced disciplinary fragments”[1] — Wertsch, del Rio and Alverez[2]

In “On Some Limits of Interdisciplinarity,” Andrew Carlin describes his purpose as examining “the use of published research, derived from sociology and ethnomethodology, in disciplinary and interdisciplinary studies.”[3] More specifically, he focuses on “missing ‘disciplinary’ epistemologies” especially those “discipline-specific epistemologies or ways of knowing that are shown to be internally inconsistent.”[4]  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Gabriele Bammer, The Australian National University,

Bammer, Gabriele. “Interdisciplining Knowledge or Disciplining Interdisciplinarity? A Reply to Huutoniemi’s “’Interdisciplinarity as Academic Accountability.'” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 3 (2016): 1-4.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:


Image credit: Jeff Youngstrom, via flickr

This thoughtful and thought-provoking article by Katri Huutoniemi adds to deliberations about how to bring interdisciplinary research out of the margins and into the mainstream, as well as how to effectively peer-review such research. This is timely as the Global Research Council, a federation of more than 50 national research funders, has selected interdisciplinarity as one of its two annual themes for an in-depth report, debate and statement between now and mid-2016.[1]  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Michael O’Rourke, Michigan State University,

O’Rourke, Michael. “A Reply to Katri Huutoniemi’s ‘Interdisciplinarity as Academic Accountability’.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 10 (2015): 26-32.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:


Image credit: Thomas Hawk, via flickr

In the contemporary university, knowledge is typically organized along disciplinary lines, and so interdisciplinarity represents a challenge to “prevailing epistemological structures” (Huutoniemi 2015, 10). As such, interdisciplinarity as a mode of research has both its supporters and its detractors. Supporters often defend interdisciplinarity as necessary to address complex, real-world problems such as climate change and educational inequality.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Stefano Bigliardi, CMES Lund University; ITESM CSF; FIIRD Geneva,

Bigliardi,Stefano. “New Religious Movements, Knowledge, and Science: Towards an Interdisciplinary Discussion.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 7 (2015): 32-37.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:


Image credit: Sombilon Photography, via flickr

Over the past eighteen months the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective has been hosting a lively discussion about the various ways in which Muslim scholars and authors argue for the compatibility of (their) religion and science. [1] Meanwhile, also inspired by the participation in a notable conference about new religions,[2] I grew convinced that at least some of the currents or tendencies within the contemporary debate over Islam and science can be best understood if we think of them in terms of new religious movements (NRMs). They namely acquire a degree of doctrinal autonomy perhaps even unsuspected by their own initiators since they possess their own exegetical methods, their “prophets” and “heroes,” and their main narratives. Such is the case for instance of the “scientific miracle of the Qur’an,”[3] or of Islamic creationism à la Harun Yahya.[4]  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Ilya Kasavin, Russian Academy of Sciences,

Kasavin, Ilya. “Cases of Interdisciplinarity: Between Habitus and Reflexion.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 3 (2015): 15-30.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:


Image credit: Mélanie Plante, via flickr

Abstract [1] [2] [3]

Several cases of broadly viewed interdisciplinary research are considered. Discussed are the disciplinary status of natural philosophy in the middle ages; the dispute about witchcraft in the Renaissance; the disciplinary formation of chemistry in the interaction between peripatetics, jatrochemists, spagirists and atomists; and the conceptual shifts in Maxwell’s electrodynamics. These debates are analyzed using two major notions—habitus and reflexion—that differ from those of Bourdieu. Habitus is taken as a methodological attitude based on natural and historically rooted adherence to a theory, or world picture, based on the shared research practice. Reflexion represents a critical and proactionary stance towards a revision of an established theoretical framework, which is irreducible to the logic of rational criticism. Various cases of habitus-reflexion controversy provide a valuable source for a typological picture of interdisciplinary research. And this, in turn, helps clarify the nature of interdisciplinarity in general, given the topicality of this cognitive pattern in the contemporary science.

Interdisciplinary interaction in modern science has become a usual phenomenon deserving more serious philosophical and scientific understanding. Why is an epistemological analysis of interdisciplinary research significant? The rationale for this attention stems from the nonclassical approaches in epistemology and philosophy of science that emphasize the communicative nature of the cognitive process and, moreover, the essential determination of the content of knowledge by various types and forms of communication.  Continue Reading…

Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities – Post-Conference Interview
Participants: Gregory Sandstrom (SERRC; and David Pedersen (SERRC; Shortlink:

This audio recording/interview was made on September 24th, 2013 in Vilnius at Mykolas Romeris University following the Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities Conference as part of Lithuania’s European Union Presidency.

The Vilnius Declaration mentioned in the interview can be found here:

We welcome feedback on the Declaration at SERRC or comments about the contents of the interview. Both David and I would be glad to respond to questions or start a dialogue based on our experiences at the Horizons event and the situation of social sciences and humanities in Europe. Based in Denmark and Lithuania, we are positioned on both sides of the European landscape and welcome communication about the present and future of social sciences and humanities in these regions or globally.

Author Information: Fred D’Agostino, University if Queensland, Australia,

D’Agostino, Fred. 2013. “Reply to Armin Krishnan.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (2): 24-25

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to: Krishnan, Armin. 2013. “Response to Fred D’Agostino’s ‘Disciplinarity and the Growth of Knowledge’”. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (2): 19-23.

Thanks to Dr Krishnan for the very thoughtful comments on my paper “Disciplinarity and the Growth of Knowledge”. I will share some anecdotes by way of reply.

When I was considering writing on the topic of “incommensurability”, an issue which arises in two, related formed, I thought: “I’d better have a look at the databases and see what’s been published”. What I found, approaching the matter as a philosopher, was, for example, an Annual Review of Sociology article on incommensurability, as seen from a sociological perspective, some management studies literature, and some literature from multi-criterion decision theory. All of this was immensely influential in the approach that, in due course, after lots of cogitation, I adopted in my book Incommensurability and Commensuration (Ashgate 2003). I built a non-essentialist story about how what is incommensurable can be commensurated and how what could be commensurated, if we wanted, can be “declared” incommensurable around these readings from outside my own home discipline. (In which, to complicate the story, I have never been formally trained.) So I guess that I agree with Dr Krishnan that “the dynamics and tension between disciplines … enables much of the innovation that occurs within disciplines” (20). Insofar as what I had to say about incommensurability was innovative from a philosophical point of view, it was so because I’d engaged with other disciplines.

That’s one part of this first anecdote. The other part is that my work on incommensurability has never entered the specifically philosophical discourse on that topic to any significant degree. Now, of course, it may be that it’s no good, or even that it’s misconceived and its being ignored is really a kindness and I should complain (not that I am complaining). But it’s also possible that, precisely because of the multidisciplinary underpinnings of the work, it’s simply hard to process by philosophers, especially since my discussion simply bypasses as not of central significance many of the preoccupations of contemporary philosophy when it comes to incommensurability.

My second anecdote arises from my experience as an academic manager and, specifically, as a member of a review panel which did the septennial review of a School of Tourism. The other panel members were themselves founding generation tourism studies academics from Britain, the Continent and North America, and of considerable distinction. One of their major concerns, not specific to the particular School we were reviewing, was that there was a pipeline of students who had done undergraduate, then post-graduate, then doctoral studies all in Tourism and hence, unlike this “founding generation”, had had limited exposure to the disciplines that they’d been engaged with as ways of entry into tourism studies: one was an economist, one a geographer, one an anthropologist “by training”. They all worried that the new generation of tourism academics were not going to have the sort of disciplinary training that would enable them to do high-quality research. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Armin Krishnan, University of Texas at El Paso,

Krishnan, Armin. 2013. “Response to Fred D’Agostino’s ‘Disciplinarity and the Growth of Knowledge’”. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (2): 19-23.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to: D’Agostino, Fred. 2012. “Disciplinarity and the Growth of Knowledge.” Social Epistemology 26 (3-4): 331-350.

The concept of interdisciplinarity has become so increasingly popular with researchers, universities, and institutional funders of research that there has been even the notion that disciplinarity might be already dead. Interestingly, the ideal of interdisciplinarity and the growth of interdisciplinary fields have not made the traditional disciplines obsolete and it does not seem as if the organization of science and knowledge in disciplines would go away anytime soon. What are the reasons for the survival and indeed continued success of the established disciplines? Fred D’Agostino has thrown some light on the social mechanisms that make disciplinarity work and succeed in their objectives of advancing knowledge. In his insightful recent article in Social Epistemology, Fred D’Agostino (2012) has argued that disciplinarity facilitates the growth of knowledge by exploiting the tension between disciplinary tradition and “innovative elements of disciplinary enquiry” (331).

There would be two types of research activity, one based is on the idea of exploration with the aim of new discovery and innovation and the other is based on the idea of exploitation of an already existing paradigm or body of knowledge with the aim of adding details and filling the gaps left by the disciplinary innovators. D’Agostino essentially claims that the dynamic interplay of “exploration and exploitation” (346) within a disciplinary community held together by a “shallow consensus” (346) on values, including the value of being part of a greater community with shared interests and stakes, allows science and knowledge to advance in an “orderly (332) manner. In other words, disciplinarity would not be a constraint or obstacle to the advancement of knowledge, as sometimes claimed, by limiting scientific enquiry through consistent rules for what constitutes good research.

To the contrary, it appears that disciplines are actually the enablers of scientific innovation, which is made possible by their ability to tolerate incoherence. The disciplines would offer only a common rationality and an agreement on the research agenda, but they would not prescribe the desirable results or impose strict rules for getting a result. This flexibility inherent in disciplinarity would allow innovators to take disciplines in new directions and the disciplines themselves to manage the risk of innovation. If novel ideas and approaches take the discipline in a profitable direction, then the discipline can renew itself or expand. Otherwise the system simply assigns individual responsibility for the failure of interpreting the shared standards of the discipline correctly. This dynamics of traditionalism and innovation would make it possible to balance the need for scientific innovation against the need for coherence that creates and maintains the discipline-based community. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Stephen Frosh, Birkbeck College, University of London,, Web Page

Frosh, Stephen. 2013. “Falling into the Gaps.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (2): 12-15.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to: Emma Craddock “Reflections on the interdisciplinarity project: A response to an interview with Carl Mitcham and a keynote address by Stephen Frosh.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 1-4, 2012.

I am grateful to Emma Craddock for the space she has given to reflecting some of my views in her commentary on interdisciplinarity. What strikes me about her piece is the very positive and grounded way in which she seeks to find value in the interdisciplinary projects she has encountered. These include some training experiences that may have fallen short of their hopes, but nevertheless represent active attempts to reach across disciplinary boundaries and enrich students’ understanding particularly of methodological issues relevant to their fields.

I am appreciative of Emma’s ability to hold together a critical awareness of the difficulties and ideological assumptions of the interdisciplinary project, alongside a pragmatic wish to find ways of working with others and to remain alert to the range of theoretical and methodological perspectives that might be used to frame any particular research project. In this context, the argument that she references from my paper about interdisciplinarity being related to a fantasy of completeness (the unattainable ambition to create a “theory of everything”) is perhaps less important to her than the ‘however’ clause that she inserts when describing this view. “However,” she writes, “I would argue that the interdisciplinary project should be a relational one, rather than one which seeks to attain an all-encompassing theory of knowledge. Indeed, I believe in encouraging and fostering relationships between and across disciplines by immersing oneself within disciplines other than your own (of course, without losing your roots within your ‘home’ discipline). Building relationships between and among disciplines may be the best way forward in the current academic culture and a step towards avoiding falling into the gaps between disciplines when attempting interdisciplinarity. My own experience suggests as much” (2). I think there is some slippage here, between a genuine “however” argument that it is possible to develop a ‘relational’ model of interdisciplinarity and a stronger assertion that such relationships might prevent researchers ‘falling into the gaps between disciplines.’ I might accept that a relational approach is possible and advantageous (though I would prefer simply to call it ‘cooperative’) but not agree that it can have the effect Emma hopes for. Specifically, I think the language of ownership in her remarks (“disciplines other than your own”; “without losing your roots within your ‘home’ discipline” emphases added) reveals a retreat into disciplinarity rather than a genuine focus on the ‘inter’. This retreat is very familiar; it is produced both by the processes of academic socialisation and by the anxiety of ‘falling’ that Emma also indexes. When in danger of falling into gaps, people characteristically cling onto whatever feels like their home ground. Continue Reading…