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Opening the Black Box of Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Cognitive Maps of Knowledge Sharing in Research Teams

Thu, August 30, 2:00 to 3:30pm, ICC, E5.4


The question of how scientific knowledge is shared and integrated in interdisciplinary collaboration has been widely discussed in the Science and Technology Studies. Much attention has been focused on the ‘bridges’ linking different sets of terminology and methodology from various disciplines. Boundary object, for instance, is one of the main concepts to describe this kind of ‘bridges’. However, the process of building or maintaining these ‘bridges’ will be still hidden in a ‘black box’ if we lack a tool of analyzing their structure and dynamics. By conducting a case study on an interdisciplinary collaboration effort of a group of computer scientists, social psychologists and physicists in a German university, this contribution shows that the cognitive mapping approach is a useful tool. Compared to ‘boundary object’, it provides a clearer and more dynamic picture of building and maintaining ‘bridges’ in interdisciplinary research teams. Moreover, it is used not only to describe the structural patterns of knowledge sharing in the progress of interdisciplinary collaboration, but also to depict the division of labor among researchers as well as their various ways of dynamically constructing shared knowledge.

Key words: interdisciplinary collaboration, cognitive map, boundary object, structure, dynamics