been used in multiple, confusing, and often conflicting ways. For example (Klein, 1990:55),
The popular term cross-disciplinary … has been used for several different purposes: to view one discipline from the perspective of another, rigid axiomatic control by one discipline, the solution of a problem with no intention of generating a new science or paradigm, new fields that develop between two or more disciplines, a generic adjective for six different categories of discipline-crossing activities, and a generic adjective for all activities involving interaction across disciplines.
Emerging consensus suggests that research can generally be characterized by the degree of interaction among disciplines. In order of increasing interaction, the spectrum ranges from “multidisciplinary” to “interdisciplinary” to “trans-disciplinary” research.
In “multidisciplinary” research, investigators representing different disciplines often work in parallel, rather than collaboratively (Klein, 1990:56):
“Multidisciplinarity” signifies the juxtaposition of disciplines. It is essentially additive, not integrative. Even in a common environment, educators, researchers, and practitioners still behave as disciplinarians with different perspectives their relationship may be mutual and cumulative but not interactive, for there is “no apparent connection,” no real cooperation or “explicit” relationships, and even, perhaps, a “questionable eclecticism.” The participating disciplines are neither changed nor enriched, and the lack of “a well-defined matrix” of interactions means disciplinary relationships are likely to be limited and “transitory.”
Indeed, Klein (1990) finds that most activities purported to be “interdisciplinary” are in actuality “multidisciplinary,” particularly research arising from problem-focused projects that intrinsically involve multiple disciplines. Multidisciplinary research in essence involves two or more disciplines, each making a separate contribution to the overall study (NRC, 2005).
“Interdisciplinary” research, in contrast, is often defined along the lines of referring to “integration of different methods and concepts through a cooperative effort by a team of investigators … [not referring simply to] the representation of different disciplines on a team nor to individuals who may ‘themselves’ incorporate different disciplines on a project themselves” (Rhoten, 2004:10). For example, a National Research Council (NRC) committee provided the following definition (Pellmar and Eisenberg, 2000:3):
Interdisciplinary research is a cooperative effort by a team of investigators, each expert in the use of different methods and concepts, who have joined in an organized program to attack a challenging problem. Ongoing communication and reexamination of postulates among team members promote broadening of concepts and enrichment of understanding.