Interdisciplinarity and poverty research 2010 prof david gordon
Interdisciplinarity and Poverty Research
Professor David Gordon
Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research
University of Bristol
IAS Seminar on Interdisciplinarity
Leaving the comfort zone –
when postgraduate research encounters the social/natural science divide
Room 410, Graduate School of Education, 35 Berkeley Square
5th May 2010
Over 50 academics from 12 departments in the Social Science and Law,
Medical, Engineering and Science Faculties, together with colleagues from
The Policy Press, are involved in a research-based initiative with the
•The production of practical policies and solutions for the alleviation and
eventual ending of world poverty.
•Greater understanding of both the ‘scientific’ and ‘subjective' measurement
•Investigation into the causes of poverty.
•Analysis of the costs and consequences of poverty for individuals, families,
communities and societies.
•Research into theoretical and conceptual issues of definition and
perceptions of poverty.
•Wide dissemination of the policy implications of research into poverty.
Below is a list of the departments and centres collaborating to form the
Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research, and a link to the poverty-
related publications by department:
Child and Adolescent Health Departmental Publications
Children of the 90s (ALSPAC) Departmental publications
Department of Community Based Medicine Departmental Publications
Economics Departmental publications
Engineering Departmental publications
Graduate School of Education Departmental publications
Geographical Sciences Departmental publications
School of Law Departmental publications
Norah Fry Research Centre Departmental publications
Policy Studies Departmental publications
Politics Departmental publications
Psychiatry Departmental publications
Social Medicine Departmental publications
Sociology Departmental publications
Millennium Development Goals
Goal 1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Target 1: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is
less than $1 a day
Target 2: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from
Goal 2 Achieve universal primary education
Target 3: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be
able to complete a full course of primary schooling
Goal 3 Promote gender equality and empower women
Target 4: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably
by 2005 and in all levels of education no later than 2015
Goal 4 Reduce child mortality
Target 5: Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality
Goal 5 Improve maternal health
Target 6: Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality
Goal 6 Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
Target 7: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
Target 8: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of Malaria &
other major diseases
The Terrible Costs of Poverty in
Age at death by age group, 1990-1995
Source: The State of the World Population 1998
Death Toll of 20th Century Atrocities
Death toll of young children
from poverty, 1990 to 1995
Only the good die young? – what kills children
Cause of death for children under five
Summary of Outcomes of Child Poverty
Outcome Are Outcomes Associated with Poverty?
• Mortality Yes, strong association with social class
• Morbidity Yes, strong association for most diseases
• Accidents Yes, for fatal accidents (but not accident morbidity)
• Mental Illness Yes
• Suicide Yes
• Child Abuse Yes, except sexual abuse
• Teenage Pregnancy Yes
• Environment/Housing Conditions Yes
• Homelessness Yes
• Low Education attainment Yes
• School exclusions Don’t Know
• Crime No
• Smoking Mainly after childhood
• Alcohol No
• Drugs No
• Child Labour No
Source: Bradshaw (2001)
Economic Cost of Child Poverty in the UK
Child poverty costs the UK at least £25 billion a year,
(equivalent to 2% of GDP) including £17 billion that could
accrue to the Exchequer if child poverty were eradicated.
Public spending to deal with the fallout of child poverty is
about £12 billion a year, about 60 per cent of which goes
on personal social services, school education and police
and criminal justice.
- The annual cost of below-average employment rates and
earnings levels among adults who grew up in poverty is
about £13 billion, of which £5 billion represents extra
benefit payments and lower tax revenues; the remaining £8
billion is lost earnings to individuals, affecting gross
domestic product (GDP).
Child Poverty in the UK
The UK Government is committed to tackling the problem of child
poverty. In March 1999, the Prime Minister Tony Blair set out a
commitment to end child poverty forever:
“And I will set out our historic aim that ours is the first generation to end
child poverty forever, and it will take a generation. It is a 20-year mission
but I believe it can be done.
The Child Poverty Bill currently at the Parliamentary Committee stage
(since 20th October 2009) will enshrine this policy commitment into UK
law in 2010.
Child Poverty Act 2010
Places in legislation the commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020,
this means that UK Secretary of State will have a duty to meet the
following child poverty targets:
•Relative poverty: Less than 10% of children living in relative
low income poverty by 2020.
•Material Deprivation: Less than 5% of children living in
combined material deprivation and low income.
•Absolute low income: Reduce the proportion of children who
live in absolute low income to less than 5%.
•Persistent Poverty: percentage of children living in relative
poverty for three out of four years (target level to be set by
the end of 2014 as data are currently unavailable)
Requires the UK Secretary of State to publish a UK child poverty strategy,
which must be revised every three years.
Taxonomy of cross disciplinary research : multidisciplinary,
interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary
Level one: Multidisciplinary
Researchers work in parallel or sequentially from disciplinary-specific base to
address common problem
Level two: Interdisciplinary
Researchers work jointly but still from disciplinary-specific basis to address
Level three: Transdisciplinary
Researchers work jointly using shared conceptual framework drawing together
disciplinary-specific theories, concepts, and approaches to address common
Rosenfield, P.L. (1992), The Potential of Transdisciplinary Research, Social Science and
Medicine, 35, 1343-1357.
Interdisciplinarity is the emergence of insight and understanding of a set
question through the integration of different concepts, methods, and theoretical
frameworks assembled from a wide cross-section of disciplines to generate novel
concepts and synthesize new theories. In practice, many proposed interdisciplinary
efforts ultimately work at the multidisciplinary level.
multidisciplinarity, while a group of researchers from different disciplines
cooperates by working together on a set problem towards a common goal, they
continue to do so using theories and methods from their own discipline, with
occasional use of output from each other’s work. They remain within the
boundaries of their own disciplines in regard to both their working practices and
True interdisciplinary research renews the individual disciplines by introducing new
questions, ideas, and methods.
Brown, E.N. (2002) Interdisciplinary Research: A Student's Perspective, Chemical
Education Today, 79, 13-14.
Implication of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary
research for academic structure and career paths
Type Of Research Academic Structure Career Path
Multidisciplinary Within existing Attractive opportunities
disciplines and faculties
Interdisciplinary Between disciplines and Needs strengthening? –
faculties: creation of new may harm career?
Transdisciplinary Synthesis of Does not exist
departments – new
department, new field of
Keyfitz (1991) “Calls to interdisciplinary research go unheeded because of the
organisation of academic life”
The Continuum of Interdisciplinary Research
Type of Ideal Reality
Traditional Need graduates in both Hire scientists and technicians and
humanities and sciences display artwork at headquarters
Multidisciplinary Coordination of independent A gaggle of disciplines share a dean
efforts. Combination of many and get their pay checks from a
disciplines to solve problem central office
Interdisciplinary Cooperation with mutually Has a complicated decision structure
beneficial arrangements not unlike the United Nations. Much
directed to solving specific time spent in meetings and
problems developing a unified programme
which is never completed
Integrated Collaboration in working jointly Like the USA – a melting pot that has
to resolve a common problem dissolved into angry debates over
with shared plan, conceptual multiculturalism
framework and responsibility
Pickett, S. et al (1999) Interdisciplinary Research, Ecosystems, 2, 302-307
Number of Papers: 1990 to 2002
Disciplines Interdisciplinary Multidisciplinary Transdisciplinary
Research Research Research
Economics 53 5 1
Epidemiology 31 24 1
Health Policy 2 0 0
Nursing 31 22 0
Occupational Health 5 5 0
Political Science 7 2 0
Psychology 636 82 9
Slatin, C. et al (2004) Interdisciplinary Research in Health Care, Public Health Reports, 119, 60-72
Collaborative Research is Better Research
The idea that the lone academic produces the ‘best’ research is incorrect.
Repeated studies have shown that collaborative research usually produces
For example, in Economics, more collaboration leads to ‘more frequent,
longer and better publications’ (Hollis 2001).
Collaboration is associated with fewer rejections in journal submissions
Co-authored papers tend to receive more citations (Johnson 1997)
However, collaboration also tends to lead to fewer papers in total per
researcher (Hollis 2001). – The RAE & Promotion Problem!
Barriers to Interdisciplinary Research
1) The Career Problem: you get promoted by publishing in ‘mainstream’ journals
in you own discipline, as a sole author and by being named as the principal
investigator on the grant.
2) The Time Problem: interdisciplinary research is much harder and takes much
longer. You have to learn enough about other disciplines to understand what
they are talking about i.e. their technical terms, concepts, methods and research
agendas. This means lots of meetings.
3) The Xenophobia Problem: you have to be able to accept (largely on trust) that
your collaborators from other disciplines are as ‘good’ at their jobs as you are at
yours and have as valid points of view.
4) The Group Work Problem: Group work is a specialist skill and it is one that few
academics are trained in; for example how to accept and deal with the fact that
not all participants are likely to be equally committed to working together?
5) The Publication Problem: where to publish? who’s name goes first? What to
do if a referee does not understand an interdisciplinary paper? Acceptance
rates in ‘top’ journals vary by subject e.g. 9% in economics, 22% in psychology,
42% in health and 69% in physics.
6) The Budget Problem: budgets and ‘credit’ often devolve down to disciplinary
Many (most?) groups go through four main phases: forming (pretending to get on);
storming (knowing they don't get on and being angry); norming (getting used to each
other); and performing (working in a group to a common goal).
It is very important to avoid ‘groupthink’ where each member of the group attempts
to conform his or her opinions to what they believe to be the consensus of the group.
This will lead the group to make ‘bad’ or irrational decisions e,g, going to war with
Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction
Groupthink can be avoided by ‘consensus decision making’, which is a decision
process that seeks the agreement of a majority of participants and also to resolve or
mitigate the objections of the minority. Note it is the process of decision making that
Some pointers to successful interdisciplinary poverty research
1) Identify a common problem for which no single discipline is capable of finding a
2) Make a commitment to cooperate
3) Try to work with a team of people who have similar levels of commitment
4) It is essential to trust the professionalism and expertise of your partners and
value the contribution of everyone in the group – not just those with the ‘best’
work habits and ideas
5) Try to work with a team of people who are willing to assume and share
responsibility and leadership.
6) Make sure you have enough time to complete the project – interdisciplinary
research is much slower and therefore more expensive than discipline based
7) Always remember that an interdisciplinary research strategy is probably the only
way to solve the really difficult problems.