Interdiscipinarity in Action: building and using a conceptual infrastructure for interdisciplinary studies of risk


The paper emphasizes the importance of finding ways for different disciplines to communicate across the conceptual boundaries between them. Four different fields of study i.e. economics, psychology, sociology and education bring concepts into this study to become integrated in a framework for analyses of risk. The context of the study is lifelong education.

A previous LLAKES thematic paper started a process of mapping relationships between Life Chances, Learning and the Dynamics of Risk in the Life Course, bringing together evidence and different perspectives within an integrative framework (Evans, Schoon and Weale 2010). This paper provided the point of departure for developing a conceptual infrastructure whose purpose is to allow people who work in different disciplines to develop an understanding of what cognate disciplines bring to the discussion of a particular socio-economic problem.

As a first methodological step, the authors have selected key concepts and their attributes (risk, opportunity, adaptability, security, responsibility, education, incentive to learn, motivation, aspiration, earnings, employment, personal agency and life chances). Dynamic Concept Analysis (Kontiainen 2002) has been used to build the interdisciplinary conceptual infrastructure, i.e. a matrix of relationships between the thirteen concepts identified as key constructs related to risk. Finally, two conceptual models have been constructed as examples of how this infrastructure can be used in conceptual analyses.

The paper is in two parts. Part One shows how the interdisciplinary conceptual infrastructure has been built for studies of risk. The second part is an analysis of risk and responsibility in which this common infrastructure provides the database to produce two different models.

A conceptual model gives a comprehensive picture of how the concepts are related in a given combination of attributes. Comparisons between the above two models show how only one difference under one concept (individual or collective responsibility) results in different dynamics between the concepts of the study. This approach makes it possible to understand how the content and meaning of each concept varies according to the relations a concept has with the other concepts. It is not enough to have only one definition for a concept or an attribute because the role and function of a concept may vary according to how it is related to the other concepts.

The conceptual infrastructure of this paper is linked to accessible and publicly available software in which it is possible to use the data base of this paper for various risk related analyses: