Preceding the work: the search for a common language

Presentation of two research projects from the humanities and social sciences

© WWU - kn
© WWU - kn
It is an unwritten law: scientific exchanges and interdisciplinarity are the basis for excellent research. How does interdisciplinary collaboration increase the gain in knowledge? What obstacles have to be overcome in everyday work? We take a closer look at these and other questions by presenting two research projects from the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

DFG research group "The Digital Town of the Future"

What are the challenges faced by researchers from the fields of Information Systems, Educational and Political Science, Sociology and Economics when they work together on a project? "We have to learn a lot of new methods in order to actually understand the others," replies Prof. Jörg Becker. The information systems specialist at Münster University is the spokesperson for the research group entitled "The Digital Town of the Future", which the German Research Foundation (DFG) has been funding since February. This research alliance is examining how towns with populations between 20,000 and 100,000 are facing up to the challenges of digitalisation. The specialists also want to develop digital instruments to increase the quality of life. The project focuses on towns such as Ahaus or Rheine which are outside metropolitan regions and which their inhabitants strongly identify with in such rural areas.

"First of all, we had to find a common basis," says Becker. The eight researchers who drew up the application for funding have been working together for three years, and before they submitted the 300-page application they met once a week - last but not least, in order to learn from one another. For information systems specialists, for example, the reference information mode - used in developing and implementing business software solutions - is a common working method. Sociologists for their part use the "social-ecological research heuristic", which links up social, ecological and economic perspectives in order to develop strategies to solve social sustainability problems. "The sophisticated methods which we use in our five disciplines are all very different, and combining them in our project leads to new insights," Becker explains. "We don’t look at each other in confusion anymore when we use the terminology." Today, the coordinator and the eleven-strong research staff have found a common working basis for the sub-projects - agreeing on the so-called capability approach developed by the Indian economist Amartya Sen. The research group is focusing on four central aspects: "Civil Society and Social Services", "Administration and Politics", "Business and Energy" and "Education and Culture". And the capability approach, which originated in the Social Sciences, fits in perfectly here: in the end, the question is what people need for a good and fulfilled life.

Topical Program: "Time and Artefact"

What opportunities are offered by collaborating outside one’s own particular subject area? "This alliance, consisting of a lot of smaller subjects - each with its own systematic approach - is a powerful driver for our project," says Prof. Achim Lichtenberger from the Institute of Classical Archaeology and Christian Archaeology at the University of Münster, who is the spokesperson of the Topical Program "Time and Artefact" which has been supported by the Rectorate since the end of last year. The aim which 25 researchers - from different disciplines in such varied humanistic and cultural disciplines as Antiquity Studies, Music, Philosophy and Social and Cultural Anthropology - have is to create a platform enabling them to work on different forms and aspects of artefacts. What is special about this is, firstly, the broad definition of "artefact". Besides material objects such as coins and architecture, the experts also examine non-material objects such as musical and literary works and money as a commodity. And secondly, the plan is to analyse the relationship between time and artefacts, how they influence and shape one another. The temporal dimension of objects and works is something which cultural researchers have not so far systematically investigated. As a result, it may be possible to find answers to questions relating for example to the existence, the mutability or the manipulability of artefacts.

"We have to develop a toolbox which we can all use, so that we don’t talk at cross-purposes," comments co-spokesperson Prof. Dorothea Schulz from the Institute of Ethnology. While research into artefacts is among the core subjects of some disciplines within the Humanities, other subjects in the Humanities and Social Sciences have only very recently begun to turn their attention to artefacts and how they are embedded in changing social and historical contexts. "This unique combination we have at Münster of empirical-descriptive and systematic-normative expertise relating to artefacts is something that we want to bring together," explains Achim Lichtenberger. One example is the discussion on the biography of objects. Researchers working in the field of Classical Antiquity and History use this method to record the ’life story’ of an object. Social and cultural anthropologists, in contrast, fear that the concept does not do justice to the mutability of objects and their appraisal by humans resulting from their transnational mobility. What the project aims to do is to find a feasible approach for all disciplines.

This article is from the university newspaper wissen