Social Scientists and Humanists in the Health Research Field: A Clash of Epistemic Habitus

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 48 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Mathieu ALBERT, University of Toronto, Canada
Elise PARADIS, University of Toronto, Canada
While science policymakers in Canada have been pushing interdisciplinary research and greater collaboration between the social sciences, humanities (SSH) and health research, SSH scholars face several cultural and material hurdles that limit their ability to participate fully in the health research field. Three questions guided our investigation: Do SSH scholars adapt to the medical research environment? How do they navigate their career within a culture and an expertise system that may be inconsistent with their own? What strategies do they use to have their our expertise acknowledged? The study builds on three concepts: decoupling, doxa, and epistemic habitus. Twenty-nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with SSH scholars working in 11 faculties of medicine across Canada.  For most of our participants, moving into medicine has been a challenging experience, as their research practices, expertise, and views of academic excellence collided with those of medicine. In order to achieve legitimacy more than half of our participants altered their research practices. This resulted in a dissonance between their internalized appreciation of academic excellence and their new, altered, research practices. Only six participants experienced no form of challenge or dissonance after moving into medicine, while three decided to break with their social science and humanities past and make the medical research community their new home. Our research suggests that for SSH scholars to succeed in the health research fields, they often have to adapt to their new field and transform their work to align with the doxa and expertise system of medicine. This necessary adaptation clashes with their epistemic habitus, leading to perceived changes in the quality of research and to professional dissatisfaction. Conversely, the medical field has not changed its rules of the game to adapt to its new occupants, thus reproducing previous hierarchies that give SSH scholars low legitimacy.