Disagreement in discipline-building processes

Synthese 198 (Suppl 25):6201-6224 (2019)


Successful instances of interdisciplinary collaboration can eventually enter a process of disciplinarisation. This article analyses one of those instances: agent-based computational social science, an emerging disciplinary field articulated around the use of computational models to study social phenomena. The discussion centres on how, in knowledge transfer dynamics from traditional disciplinary areas, practitioners parsed several epistemic resources to produce new foundational disciplinary shared commitments, and how disagreements operated as a mechanism of differentiation in their production. Two parsing processes are examined to illustrate this claim. The first one is the parsing of the qualitative–quantitative dualism, arguably the most important methodological disagreement in social science. The second one is the parsing of prediction, a key value in contemporary science. The analysis evidences that disagreements have fostered both external and internal dynamics of differentiation in agent-based computational social science. The former have permitted a more efficient use of epistemic resources, whereas the latter have forced practitioners to modify the foundational narrative and the agenda of the field.

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