Authored by Ed Jones, PhD Student at the Bartlett School of Planning and conference co-organiser
On a sunny Monday afternoon, students from across London’s ESRC DTCs came together for the long awaited interdisciplinary conference. The rather verdant surroundings of London Business School provided the setting for two stimulating days of papers and discussion. Oxford University’s Prof Jo Boyden keynote lecture kicked off the conference with an engaging presentation exploring the methodological, ethical and epistemological challenges and opportunities of working across diverse disciplinary perspectives including economics, epidemiology and anthropology on the Young Lives Project, an ambitious mixed methods longitudinal research on child well-being. The parallel sessions later that afternoon covered a wide range of topics, from the economics of fiscal policy in a debt crisis to the changing nature of the middle class in Egypt. The presence of attendees from a variety of disciplines fostered interesting discussions, with sociologists and geographers engaging with a political science-focussed study of protests in Cairo in one of the sessions.
The evening poster session added another dimension to communicating across disciplines – participants rose to the challenge of presenting their research in a visually engaging way, sparking wide ranging discussions. The first day drew to a close with a three course meal courtesy of the LBS. Discussions continued in the pub, and a hardy handful of delegates pursued interdisciplinary debate late into the night in the Hotel Danubius bar. The second day saw the delegates split into groups for an interdisciplinary exercise, where participants used their imaginations and disciplinary perspectives to address the key issues, methods, drivers and possible outcomes of a scenario based around real world issues that drew on ESRC research themes.
The final round of parallel sessions then provided insights into a range of topics, including interdisciplinarity and corruption and digitally mediated social capital. Roger Burrows’ closing lecture provided much food for thought on the methodological challenges facing empirical social science research, and the opportunities brought by new technologies in allowing researchers to observe and understand the world. All in all, the conference provided a good arena for students to share the emerging findings of their research, develop understandings informed by other disciplines, and consider the opportunities and challenges presented by interdisciplinary working.