Paradigmatic approaches to studying environment and human health: (Forgotten) implications for interdisciplinary research

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Phoenix, Cassandra ; Osborne, Nicholas J. ; Redshaw, Clare ; Moran, Rebecca ; Stahl-timmins, Will ; Depledge, Michael H. ; Fleming, Lora E. ; Wheeler, Benedict W. (2013)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2012.10.015
  • Subject: Interdisciplinary; Methodology; Philosophy of science; Epistemology; Ontology; Positivistism; Postpositivism; Interpretivism; Generalizbility

Interdisciplinary research is increasingly promoted in a wide range of fields, especially so in the study of relationships between the environment and human health. However, many projects and research teams struggle to address exactly how researchers from a multitude of disciplinary and methodological backgrounds can best work together to maximize the value of this approach to research. In this paper, we briefly review the role of interdisciplinary research, and emphasise that it is not only our discipline and methods, but our research paradigms, that shape the way that we work. We summarise three key research paradigms – positivism, postpositivism and interpretivism – with an example of how each might approach a given environment-health research issue. In turn, we argue that understanding the paradigm from which each researcher operates is fundamental to enabling and opti- mizing the integration of research disciplines, now argued by many to be necessary for our understanding of the complexities of the interconnections between human health and our environment as well as their impacts in the policy arena. We recognise that a comprehen- sive interrogation of research approaches and philosophies would require far greater length than is available in a journal paper. However, our intention is to instigate debate, recogni- tion, and appreciation of the different worlds inhabited by the multitude of researchers involved in this rapidly expanding field.
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