Incommensurability in Cross-Disciplinary Research: A Call for Cultural Negotiation

  • Anne MacCleave Mount Saint Vincent University


What happens when a clinical psychologist, a grounded theorist, an ethnographer, and a phenomenologist meet to collaborate on an interdisciplinary grant proposal on childhood loneliness? Excerpts of an imaginary dialogue reveal how different disciplines can be thought of as different “cultures,” because each has its own way of doing things, deeply embedded assumptions about knowledge and the construction/representation of reality, and different specialized languages. Some of these differences might be incommensurable and call for cultural negotiation if a coherent approach is to be adopted. Cultural negotiation helps to make differences more accessible and understandable rather than creating inflexible or polarized ideological camps. This process might help methodologists think about researching across disciplines in new and more effective ways.