Erasing the Social from Social Science: The Intellectual Costs of Boundary-Work and the Canadian Institute of Health Research

Katelin E. Albert


In 2009, Canadian social science research funding underwent a transition. Social science health-research was shifted from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), an agency previously dominated by natural and medical science. This paper examines the role of health-research funding structures in legitimizing and/or delimiting what counts as ‘good’ social science health research. Engaging Gieryn’s (1983) notion of ‘boundary-work’ and interviews with qualitative social science graduate students, it investigates how applicants developed proposals for CIHR. Findings show that despite claiming to be interdisciplinary, the practical mechanisms through which CIHR funding is distributed reinforce rigid boundaries of what counts as legitimate health research. These boundaries are reinforced by applicants who felt pressure to prioritize what they perceived was what funders wanted (accommodating natural-science research culture), resulting in erased, elided, and disguised social science theories and methods common for ‘good social science.’


Interdisciplinary; Boundary-Work; Canadian Institute of Health Research; Funding; Institutional Ethnography

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