Relations of Suspicion: Critical Theory and Interdisciplinary Research


  • Jennifer Sumner University of Guelph


Interdisciplinarity, Jennifer Sumner, HIC, 2003


While interdisciplinary researchers cultivate a critical attitude toward disciplinary constraints, they do not necessarily extend that attitude to their research design, interpretation of findings, role as researchers, or society at large. Allying interdisciplinary research with critical theory opens up the critique that interdisciplinarity begins, allowing research to move beyond the bounds not only of disciplines, but also of the status quo. By looking at interdisciplinarity through the idea of relationships and then infusing those relationships with a critical attitude, researchers can build interdisciplinary relations of suspicion. These relations of suspicion can help researchers begin to address complex contemporary issues such as globalization and sustainability.

Social science is a social phenomenon embedded in a political and ethical context. What is explored, and how it is explored, can hardly avoid either supporting (reproducing) or challenging existing social conditions. Different social interests are favoured or disfavoured depending on the questions that are asked (and not asked), and on how reality is represented and interpreted. Thus the interpretations and the theoretical assumptions on which these are based are not neutral but are part of, and help to construct, political and ideological conditions. (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2000, p. 8)

Author Biography

Jennifer Sumner, University of Guelph

Jennifer Sumner is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Rural Studies Program at the University of Guelph, an interdisciplinary PhD program that focuses on sustainable rural communities. Her book, Searching for Sustainability: Rural Communities in the Age of Globalization, will be published shortly by the University of Toronto Press. She is also the author of eight refereed journal articles, six book chapters, and two encyclopedia entries, many of which deal with interdisciplinary issues.