Incompatible Assumptions: Barriers to Producing Multidisciplinary Knowledge in Communities of Scholarship

by Corinne Bendersky & Kathleen L. McGinn

Overview — Just as flows of knowledge within and across communities of practice improve the quality of new products, knowledge sharing among knowledge workers within interdisciplinary communities may be critical for new discoveries and for a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of phenomena. In spite of this, biologists tend to talk to biologists, economists tend to talk to economists, and lawyers tend to talk to lawyers. This paper argues that producing and disseminating knowledge within a multidisciplinary community of practice is enhanced when knowledge workers hold compatible assumptions, even when the form and content of knowledge generation across those workers varies. Key concepts include:

  • Generating multidisciplinary knowledge may require communities of scholarship to acknowledge the presence and limitations of their assumptions.
  • Within a community of scholarship, interpretive barriers to sharing knowledge arise when subgroups hold contrary assumptions about the appropriate questions to be asked or the fundamental nature of the phenomenon under investigation.
  • Cross-discipline understanding may stem from the potential for members to recognize the relevance of others' findings to their own scholarship.

Author Abstract

Co-locating knowledge workers from different disciplines may be a necessary but insufficient step to generating multidisciplinary knowledge. We explore the role of assumptions underlying knowledge creation within the field of organizational studies, and investigate how incompatible assumptions across subgroups may inhibit the generation of multidisciplinary knowledge. While organizational studies research commonly assumes dynamic open systems with recursive influence between environments and interactions, studies of micro-processes in organizations often assume implicitly that interactions among organizational members are closed systems. We suggest that this incompatibility between assumptions may inhibit knowledge sharing in organizational studies research. We empirically assess this assertion by analyzing studies of negotiation published in top peer-reviewed management, psychology, sociology, and industrial relations journals from 1990 to 2005. Our findings illuminate a continuum of open-systems to closed-systems assumptions underlying this micro-process research. Analysis of the rate of citation of the articles in our data set by non-negotiation organizational studies research reveals that open systems assumptions increase the likelihood that a negotiation article will be cited in organizational studies, after controlling for other known effects on citation rate, such as outlet, discipline, length, number of citations and methodology. Our findings suggest that multidisciplinary fields can enhance their knowledge sharing by attending to the compatibility of assumptions held by sub-groups within the field.

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