, Volume 100, Issue 1, pp 73–96 | Cite as

The dynamics of interdisciplinary research fields: the case of river research

  • Pim Vugteveen
  • Rob Lenders
  • Peter Van den Besselaar


Interdisciplinarity results from dynamics at two levels. Firstly, research questions are approached using inputs from a variety of disciplinary fields. Secondly, the results of this multidisciplinary research feed back into the various research fields. This may either contribute to the further development of these fields, or may lead to disciplinary reconfiguration. If the latter is the case, a new interdisciplinary field may emerge. Following this perspective, the scientific landscape of river research and river science is mapped to assess to which current river research is a multi-disciplinary endeavor, and to which extent it results in a new emerging (inter)disciplinary field of river science. The paper suggests that this two level approach is a useful method to study interdisciplinary research and, more generally, disciplinary dynamics. With respect to river research, we show that it is mainly performed in several fields (limnology, fisheries & fish research, hydrology & water resources, and geomorphology) that hardly exchange knowledge. The different river research topics are multidisciplinary in nature, as they are shared by different fields. However, river science does not emerge as an interdisciplinary field, and often-mentioned new interdisciplinary fields such as hydroecology or hydromorphology are not (yet) visible. There is hardly any involvement of social within river research. Finally, the field of ecology occupies a central position within river research, whereas an expected engineering field is shown absent. This together may signal the acceptance of the ecosystem-based paradigm in river management, replacing the traditional engineering paradigm.


Cognitive change Knowledge dynamics Interdisciplinarity Multidisciplinarity River science 



This study has been partly financed by the Interdepartmental Institute Science and Society of the Radboud University Nijmegen (grant W&S 2004-04), and by the Kennis voor Klimaat (Knowledge for Climate) program. Thanks to Mieke van Hemert for providing input when discussing the set up of the project, to André Somers for assistance with the SAINT Toolbox, to Jan Hendriks, Rob Leuven and two anonymous reviewers for providing valuable comments on earlier drafts.

Supplementary material

11192_2014_1286_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (246 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 450 kb)
11192_2014_1286_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (718 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 84 kb)


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pim Vugteveen
    • 1
  • Rob Lenders
    • 1
  • Peter Van den Besselaar
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ScienceRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Organization Sciences & Network InstituteVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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