Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary research involves the integration of theories, concepts, methodologies or methods from two or more academic disciplines or professional practice fields into a common research framework. Interdisciplinary Health Research (IDHR) refers specifically to the integration of frameworks and perspectives from multiple disciplines within or allied to health. The existing empirical literature including in the health research domain, has privileged a focus on the collaborative and interpersonal aspects of interdisciplinarity resulting in a focus on the processes and practices of collaboration and the interdisciplinary team as the unit of analysis. This has meant that researchers’ voices and stories regarding their personal journey and lived experience of interdisciplinarity have largely been absent from the literature.
This thesis explores how IDHR is enacted, experienced and lived by health researchers in higher education, as well as the link between the lived experience of IDHR and identity. It uses hermeneutic phenomenological methods to gather rich idiographic data from twenty-one health researchers engaged in IDHR in the Australian higher education sector. Data interpretation occurs at two levels: a phenomenological analysis explores the essential characteristics of IDHR as a human phenomenon, while a theoretical analysis explicates issues related to identity and identification associated with health researchers’ lived experience.
The phenomenological findings of this thesis illustrate that health researchers’ lived experience of IDHR is simultaneously enabling and disabling, and thus fundamentally paradoxical in nature. These findings also show the multiplicity of levels at which health researchers enact IDHR, including the social-relational and personal-embodied level. Theoretical interpretation of findings from the perspective of identity shows that health researchers’ engaged in IDHR encounter a tension between their institution-identity which is traditionally defined and legitimised in relation to a discipline, and their affinity-identity reflecting their personal values and preferences for interdisciplinary work. Using identity dissonance as a theoretical lens, this thesis illustrates that health researchers engaged in IDHR strive to reconcile the conflict in identities and associated feelings of vulnerability and discomfort, by constructing and negotiating their identity in different ways. Strategies health researchers use include: conformist practices aimed at aligning with dominant discipline-based values and expectations in the institution and the higher education sector; performative tactics aimed at presenting a favourable image of self to significant others; and resistive strategies aimed at affirming personal interdisciplinary preferences and values.
In summary, this thesis illustrates that the lived experience of IDHR can be conceptualised as a conflicted space within which researchers’ identities are contested, constructed and negotiated. This is the first phenomenological and theoretical account of how IDHR is experienced, enacted and lived by health researchers in the higher Australian education setting. This thesis identifies a number of practical recommendations related to the need for individual researchers and research teams to articulate and constructively manage the ambiguities and conflict in identities characterising the lived experience of IDHR. This thesis also provides an important message about how higher education institutions and the sector more broadly can transform research cultures and practices in order to foster and support integrative and creative forms of working and thinking (including about self) that transcend discipline boundaries.