2. Key Conceptual Issues in Environmental Humanities Scholarship
The last fifteen years has seen the development of an impressive corpus of environmental humanities research (Heise 2014
; 2017, pp. 1–2
). It is comprised of articles in mainly discipline-centric journals, monographs and, increasingly, edited collections with contributions from authors in different disciplines. The high quality of much of it has gone a considerable way to establishing environmental scholarship within the humanities in a relatively short period of time. And, without doubt, the growing use of the term ‘environmental humanities’, implying as it does the sense of an established academic community and intellectual kinship, is much more than a reaction to the still recent marginalisation of the environment within some disciplinary mainstreams (for example, (Fisher et al. 2009, pp. 221–23
; Little 2016a, pp. 55–60
)). It expresses a determination to be proactive and to engage meaningfully with others across subject boundaries, certainly within the humanities and, potentially, between the humanities and the sciences, social sciences and policy-making.
That said, however, and while some works which were written in and for specific disciplines have come to have wider significance (Heise 2017, pp.1–2
), care perhaps needs to be taken to not overstate the extent of interdisciplinary connection in the environmental humanities. Currently, and notwithstanding the rapid and recent growth of a number of humanities projects and initiatives across the world (Holm et al. 2015, pp. 987–89
), collaborative interdisciplinary working is still relatively new. Much of the existing scholarship is not easily accessible to those who are not experts in particular disciplines, and it may have limited relevance for wider readerships. This is not a criticism, as the main objective of much humanities research, as with much science and social science research, is to contribute to discipline-centric specialisms (although, as already noted and expanded on below, humanists are often sole-authors, while scientists are more accustomed to team working). Thus, for example, literary studies analysing novels themed around the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples or landscapes may not have—and, reasonably and rightly, may not be intended to have—wider resonance beyond a relatively small community of eco-critics. So, to be clear, it is not being suggested that environmental humanists should not be engaged in producing solo scholarship which deepens understanding within their specialisms: doing so is at the core of the academy and will doubtless continue to be so. Rather, it is contended that developing the field means not only
pursuing discipline-centric, specialist research, but also
building new interdisciplinary collaborations (Little 2016a, pp. 60–61, 64–73
; Holm et al. 2015, p. 986
; Hamilton et al. 2009
). Moreover, the former may benefit from the insights which emerge from the latter and vice versa: a multi-track approach can be synergistic (Little 2016a, pp. 73–74
Realising this ambition, however, leads to a key question that has to be addressed at the outset. For if environmental humanities research is often conducted by lone scholars pursuing a range of diverse and specialist disciplinary approaches and schemas, what are the factors which connect it?
One way of answering the question is to stand back and think about the environmental humanities as a broad church: doing so clarifies common themes which can then be built on to develop more structured interdisciplinary collaboration. Notwithstanding the range of theoretical complexities in the scholarship, or its discipline-centric content and sometimes culture-specific nature, it is argued that four key issues emerge from this process. These provide the conceptual context to the RSE network and influenced the design of its four-stage model.
The Anthropocene provides the intellectual backdrop to diverse re-evaluations of ideas of time, narrative and history. These have explored a wide variety of ecologies in fictional, non-fictional and visual narratives (see for example (Adamson and Davis 2017
; Sörlin and Warde 2009
; Smout 2009
; Gardiner and Thompson 2015
; Isenberg 2014
; Garrard 2014
; Heise et al. 2017
)). The significance of different approaches in the development of environmental politics and law has also been assessed (for example, Gabrielson et al. 2016
; Fisher et al. 2013
). In addition, the Anthropocene, involving as it does vast timescales and global consequences, has led humanists to re-evaluate core ideas such as gender, race, class, inter-generational relations and nationalism (Chakrabarty 2009
; Heise 2014, pp. 22–23
). And, inevitably, the Anthropocene raises profound ethical and philosophical questions about situating humanity and its agency in nature and time (Jamieson 2017
; Martell 1994, p. 77
). In this context, the post-humanist ideas of writers such as Bruno Latour have been influential (Latour 1991
). So too is the distinction between anthropocentric approaches (i.e., those which focus on and prioritise human interests within the context of an ecologically sustainable society) and ecocentric ones (i.e., those which, in addition to this, posit a broader idea of human development which recognises the moral value of the non-human world and its development) (Eckersley 1992, p. 26
In short, environmental issues are inseparable from the tangled skein of human perceptions. Humanities scholars therefore have a major part to play in exploring these perceptions and deepening understanding of them, along with social scientists such as anthropologists and economists. So, the primary focus of the environmental humanities is, taken together, on the cultural and intellectual interactions between humans and what we conceptualise as ‘the environment’: the core objective is that of contributing to the interpretation and judging of human perception on, and knowledge of, environmental issues. Hence, for example, while the STEM subjects are concerned with studying climate change caused by fossil fuel use and creating low carbon technologies to mitigate it, the humanities can, along with qualitative social sciences, provide different insights into how these phenomena are perceived in cultural terms, thereby making a valuable contribution to the meta-debate on how society might approach them.
In this context, the environmental humanities can also help bridge the intellectual gaps between scientific timescales, which in the case of climate change can play out over thousands of years, and more easily comprehensible timescales such as a human lifespan (McNeill 2001, chp. 1
; Griffiths 2007, p. 4
; Roberts 2014
). By engaging with defined, accessible timescales and focusing on subjects such as specific landscapes or cultures, humanists can provide valuable perspectives on the interactions between people and their environments (see for example (Clapp 1994
; Simmonds 2001
; Sheail 2002
; Smout 2009
; Warde 2008
; Roberts 2014, chp. 1
)). They can also provide important critiques by setting science and its methods in broader human and social contexts, with the objective of influencing and improving the ways in which scientists and policymakers interact and communicate with the public (Griffiths 2007, pp. 4–5
; Little 2016a, pp. 68–69, 70–73
Secondly, and despite their wide diversity in terms of subject matter, theory and method, the environmental humanities are also connected by their focus on analysing different forms of narrative, or story: it is the centrality of narrative and its critique which has perhaps the greatest potential to bring the environmental humanities together as a body of scholarship. To point to the significance of narrative in the humanities is, of course, anything but original (see for example (Griffiths 2007, p. 4
; Shaw 2013
; Cover 1983
; Little 2016a, pp. 67–68
; Heise 2017, pp. 6–9
; Holm et al. 2015, p. 981
)). Its importance in shaping our ideas on what has happened, is happening and may happen, and in influencing the future is well understood. Narratives—whether fictional, non-fictional, theatrical, visual, oral, musical, sculptural, historical, contemporary, digital, realist, abstract, on the page or on the screen—have powerful and sophisticated effects on the way that we think, feel and behave, as individuals and as societies. The humanities therefore utilise a range of different narrative critique-based methods to interconnect and analyse complex issues: in this respect, the humanities differ from scientific methods which often tend to test and analyse their subjects on an individual basis (Griffiths 2007, p. 4
). So, by focussing on the critique of culturally powerful narratives, the humanities can facilitate the development of a better understanding of how people access and are influenced by the mixture of truths, misconceptions and issues which are embedded in them—sometimes explicitly and sometimes not.
Thirdly, all of the humanities are united in having to grapple with environmental issues which are themselves difficult, controversial, interconnected and multidimensional (Dryzek 2005, pp. 8–9
). There is the interweaving of the biophysical ecosystem, incomplete scientific knowledge, and the social, political, economic, cultural and legal aspects of humanity to contend with. In addition, major issues such as climate change and low carbon transition require action at global, local and individual levels if they are to be tackled successfully (Fisher et al. 2013, pp. 23–31
). Taken together, environmental issues are classic examples of the legal philosopher Lon Fuller’s polycentric (or ‘many-centred’) problems: each crossing of the different strands which link them together is a ‘distinct centre for distributing tensions’, as if in a spider’s web, making it extremely difficult to understand how best to approach them (Fuller 1978, p. 395
Moreover, disagreement over how to approach key environmental issues is, given the degree of scientific uncertainty, often centred on what is understood as fact (Latour 1991, p. 1
). The positions which are adopted by individuals and societies are, to a considerable extent, reflections of the importance of, and differences over, competing values. Indeed, as the continuing controversy over whether climate change is happening and, if it is, whether it has been caused by human activity demonstrates that environmental knowledge is mixed together with ethical and socio-cultural values. These values ‘fill gaps left by uncertainties’ (Fisher et al. 2013, p. 45
)—even when, as is the case with climate change, the overwhelming scientific consensus is clear. This dynamic impacts on the directions taken by science, public opinion, policy-making, law and government: environmental humanists therefore recognise, among other things, that critical evaluation of environmental issues is often perceived and experienced culturally via a subjective rather than an objective process (Fisher et al. 2013, ibid
Now, of course, scientists, social scientists and policy-makers have to confront these issues too, albeit in different ways. But the complexity of humanity’s interaction with its environment is exactly the sort of intellectual context in which the humanities flourish: indeed, as already suggested, developing understanding of the diverse and multi-layered complexity of cultural influences and their effects is what they are about, what makes them distinctive intellectually and what unites them across disciplinary boundaries.
Fourthly, the humanities are, it is argued, brought together by the need to acknowledge that they are sometimes relative newcomers to environmental debates. Not unreasonably, humanities scholarship—although growing rapidly—is not always at the same stage of maturity as those sciences and quantitative social sciences which have dominated the environmental field, in some cases for decades. While saying this may seem self-critical, it would, it is contended, be unrealistic not to recognise it as a real issue, particularly given that many in the sciences, social sciences and policy-making still struggle to see the relevance of interaction with the humanities. In consequence, when approaching environmental issues where humanities scholarship is still relatively undeveloped by comparison with relevant sciences and social sciences, humanists may need to step back into their own disciplines, and consider what their primary expertise can bring to the table with clear eyes, almost as if from first principles (see for example (Little 2016a, pp. 54–61
; Fisher et al. 2009
)). Admittedly, reflective practice is not always a comfortable process—indeed, it is sometimes salutary. But, given the still nascent stage of the humanities in some environmental areas, it may be an important one if we are to minimise the risks of failing to maximise potential or of producing flawed research.
3. Interdisciplinarity: Key Definitions and Issues
Against this broad conceptual backdrop, initiatives such as the Humanities for the Environment Observatories (“HftEOs”)4
, The Seed Box5
, the UK research councils’ Global Research Challenges Fund6
and, on a smaller Scottish scale, the SCEHP and the RSE network are all seeking to facilitate interdisciplinarity: one of the most exciting aspects of these and similar projects is the potential that they have to explore collaborative inter-humanities approaches to particular issues, which can then be used in broader interdisciplinary collaboration with the sciences, social sciences and policymaking. In a UK context, following support for interdisciplinarity in Lord Stern’s influential report on the Research Excellence Framework (“REF”)7
(Stern 2016, para. 39–42
), and increased funding from the main research councils8
, academics are now engaging with it in greater numbers. There have been similar developments elsewhere (Derry et al. 2013, pp. xiv–xvi
; Holm et al. 2013, pp. 30–35
). Before expanding on the RSE project and model, however, we should give brief consideration to defining interdisciplinarity—for the terminology is often used inconsistently, and we need to be careful about what is meant by it.
A widely accepted definition of interdisciplinary working is that it is a method of conducting research that ‘integrates, among other things, techniques, perspectives, concepts and/or theories from more than one discipline to develop knowledge in a way that would be beyond the capacity of a single discipline’ (Little 2016a, p. 61
; National Academy of Sciences et al. 2005, p. 2
; Klein 1996
; Vick 2004, pp. 164–65, 181–91
). This can be done, as in many humanities disciplines, by a lone scholar drawing from more than one discipline (Little 2016a, p. 63
), but the main focus of most discussions of interdisciplinarity (which are concerned predominantly with science and social science) is collaborative group working. Central to it is the ideal of engaging experts from a range of disciplines in challenging dialogues which are transformational
for their understanding, and which lead to the creation of new knowledge, perspectives, answers and even disciplines (Derry et al. 2013, p. xii
Other terms which are used widely are multidisciplinary
research. Broadly, the first seeks to draw from a range of separate disciplines, but not to integrate them (Little 2016a, p. 62
; European Science Foundation and European Cooperation in Science and Technology 2012, p. 48
). Here, disciplinary identities are maintained, and the objective is to use a limited number of shared or borrowed concepts across subject boundaries. Some argue that this sort of process has in fact been more effective than interdisciplinarity in leading to major breakthroughs (Rogers et al. 2013
). Crossdisciplinarity is usually used to refer to the process of collaboration across disciplines to solve complex problems. It tends to stress the importance of effective management, leadership and communication (Pennington 2008
). Transdisciplinary research is similar to interdisciplinarity in that it seeks to develop new approaches and ways of thinking about complex issues that transcend disciplinary identities (Klein 2008, Sect. 117
; Little 2016a, ibid.
; Bruce et al. 2004
). Although the term is often used loosely (and is inter-related with concepts such as ‘post-normal science’ (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1991
)), it has been defined as research which seeks to produce new ideas from in-depth participation between academics and
practitioners in the context of real-world problems (Polk 2014
): the involvement of non-academic experts distinguishes transdisciplinarity from interdisciplinarity (Padmanabhan 2017
A further distinction which is returned to in the discussion of the RSE network model is that of radical
interdisciplinarity (Holm et al. 2013, pp. 28–29
). The radical variant involves scholars working across major disciplinary boundaries—such as theatre and environmental science—while the moderate one takes place between scholars in intellectually cognate disciplines such as law and policy, philosophy and religious studies, politics and history, or visual arts and media (European Science Foundation and European Cooperation in Science and Technology 2012, p. 48
; Little 2016a, ibid.
). And, of course, any discussion of interdisciplinarity needs to recognise that disciplinary identities themselves are at the same time enduring, resilient, self-sustaining, fuzzy, contested, sub-divided and constantly evolving (Vick 2004, pp. 166–70
Liz Fisher, a leading environmental law scholar, has argued that interdisciplinary scholarship ‘requires the ongoing fostering of a specific type of expertise’ (Fisher 2016, pp. 2–4
). She draws on an additional and insightful distinction made by Collins and Evans—that is, between ideal types of ‘interactional
’ and ‘contributory
’ expertise. The former is a level of expertise which enables participants in an interdisciplinary project to be able to ‘interact interestingly with’ those from other disciplines and to engage in sociological analysis. The latter, however, is where participants have sufficient expertise to actually ‘contribute to the science of the field being analysed’ (Collins and Evans 2002, p. 254
). The existence of interactional expertise enables participants from different disciplinary backgrounds to talk about issues in a common ‘practice language’ (Collins and Evans 2015, p. 119
). Among other things, it is therefore essential that it is planned and managed effectively: otherwise, it runs the risk of producing outcomes which are flawed—or even perverse and dangerous (Collins and Evans 2015, pp. 121–22
). Contributory expertise may be characterised as being inherently more challenging, as it requires a great deal of effort on the part of participants to learn about new disciplines, in order that they are able to make significant contributions across disciplinary boundaries.
It is axiomatic that moderate interdisciplinarity tends to imply a high degree of interactional expertise, which becomes progressively more difficult to sustain as the relationship between disciplines involved becomes more radical. It is also the case, arguably at least, that the greater the degree of interactional expertise, the more fruitful the interdisciplinary collaboration may be and the greater the likelihood of contributory expertise developing—provided the process is well designed and channelled effectively.
To conclude this section, and in a spirit of realism, the potential downsides of interdisciplinary working should also be acknowledged, as they are significant. The first is self-evident. Much time, effort and resource can be expended on interacting with scholars working in other disciplines, but little of academic value may emerge. Interdisciplinary collaboration can, as a method, be ineffective and wasteful and the output may be academically weak, particularly if scholars do not recognise that they lack expertise in areas other than their own or they have developed a working method which turns out to be flawed. In short, it is a high risk venture. To avoid this, interdisciplinary research groups need to be able to arrive at clear objectives and methods which have been thought through and agreed at the outset by all involved, a point that will be returned to in the discussion of the RSE network model.
The second pitfall is that many institutions, for all that they may now appear to be championing collaborative interdisciplinarity, are in reality structured in such a way as to put up barriers against it (National Academies 2005, pp. 88–93
; EURAB 2004, pp. 2–3, 5–6, 10
). Most humanists work in conventional university departments which are specialist disciplinary silos. This is not unreasonable, because scholars must develop primary expertise in their subject area: the organisational rationale has therefore been to focus resources on developing specialism rather than interdisciplinary working. And in the UK context, this dynamic has arguably been reinforced over the past twenty years by successive REFs, which have been based around subject specialist units of assessment (Stern 2016, para. 39–42
So, it can still be difficult for scholars (and their universities) to break out of often very established organisational structures and ways of thinking, and to establish meaningful and effective connections with those in different disciplines. To do so requires time and for individual scholars to be proactive, bold and phlegmatic about rejection, both by prospective partners in other disciplines and by those in their own discipline who focus on more orthodox approaches to research. And for universities and funders to be serious about making a success of interdisciplinary collaboration, they need to provide more than warm words, and reform their institutional objectives, resourcing, structures and processes (National Academy of Sciences et al. 2005, chp. 5
Moreover, the risks for individual scholars who choose to collaborate across disciplines are potentially considerable. As noted earlier, interdisciplinary collaboration runs contrary to the humanities tradition of the lone scholar and it is also very time-consuming. Certainly, in the pre-Stern REF environment in the UK, it is reasonable to think that collaborative researchers may have been disadvantaged by comparison with sole authors who are able to publish more. Collaboration-based outputs may also be co-authored rather than sole-authored, which has had the potential, whether fairly or unfairly, to lessen their perceived worth in REF terms within institutions, particularly in the humanities. And it is not always clear how interdisciplinary outputs will be assessed in university-level “mock” REFs, or the real thing (Stern 2016, para. 39–42
). It remains to be seen whether these aspects of the research environment will change in the UK as a result of Stern.
In addition, journals are for the most part also silo-based, specialist publications. This means there can be particular difficulties in getting interdisciplinary research published—editors and referees may be more likely to be cautious about accepting interdisciplinary articles. Not only are they difficult to assess, but the main readership may be more interested in established debates. And, notwithstanding the recent increases in funding for interdisciplinarity, it is still reasonable to think that it may be very difficult to obtain financial support for it: funders might find it harder to assess interdisciplinary proposals (which are also more difficult to construct) and there will be increasing competition for resources as more scholars apply.
In sum, therefore, it might be that academics pursuing interdisciplinary research could find that they have made their professional lives harder than they would otherwise have been. Indeed, in their 2004 report, the US National Academies made the point that university structures and criteria for career development can make it more difficult for interdisciplinary researchers to be appointed, get tenure and be promoted (National Academy of Sciences et al. 2005, pp. 69–79
). While the situation is now much more supportive, it is still reasonable to think that developing a profile in collaborative interdisciplinary research could impact adversely on career prospects.
5. Reflections on the RSE Network Model Experience: Implications for Collaborative Interdisciplinarity and the Environmental Humanities
While the work of the RSE network is still ongoing, experience of the model thus far has brought five broad issues to the fore, which would be relevant in the event that it is adopted more widely or developed further in other contexts.
Firstly, to return to the importance of involving experts from non-humanities areas in stage 2 project development, it became apparent during different RSE project sessions that the issues that humanities scholars focus on may not always be relevant to those working in policy-making or science and technology. This reiterated the importance of interacting with and engaging in dialogue with colleagues in non-humanities disciplines, particularly at the earliest stages: otherwise, while what emerges may be of interest within the context of individual disciplines or humanities scholarship generally, it may be of limited relevance in wider environmental debate or to decision-takers.
Secondly, there are some striking differences between the different humanities disciplines. Some, such as law, politics or media may be closer to policy and commercial agendas, as they often interact closely with them (Vick 2004, pp. 177–81
). This is not always the case, however. For example, the growing interest among law and politics scholars in energy justice as a broad guiding principle in low-carbon transition and climate change mitigation may be relevant to policymakers dealing with issues such as fuel poverty, but it would be considered to be less so in most other areas of environmental/energy policy. Similarly, the focus of politics and legal scholars on theory and the inter-relationships between different levels of governance are relevant to environmental policymakers to some extent, but are usually seen as contextual to achieving policy objectives. Visual arts, literature and theatre, are, by comparison with the more technocratic humanities disciplines, sometimes highly politicised or even activist in motivation, while seeming for the most part far removed from the actuality of official policy-making processes: indeed, their focus may, quite reasonably for artistic and academic reasons, be wholly unrelated to it. But being overtly political or activist may cause difficulties for other humanities scholars—and is likely to alienate those in policy-making, the STEM subjects and social sciences.
Coming to terms with this internal complexity of the humanities is, it is argued, a positive and enlightening experience. In the RSE network, it resulted in participants testing the capacity, relevance and significance of their disciplines and of the environmental humanities generally. For many of us, it challenged our established ways of thinking, and shook up ideas of what we think the humanities can do. It often made disciplinary strengths more apparent, as well as areas for development, and provided a greater degree of clarity about their value. And, above all (for me at least), it put it beyond doubt that the lone scholar—or even a single-discipline group—is unlikely to have a major impact, especially on policy.
Thirdly, in the RSE network, all of the disciplinary panels brought together a wide range of different perspectives on the points at issue. Indeed, one of the first things to become apparent in each panel was that there is no such thing as a definitive disciplinary position: while panel members may share the same disciplinary background, they have different individual interests, knowledge bases, approaches and methods. The ability to work in a collegiate and mutually respectful way is therefore essential, all the more so because each of the disciplines often found it very challenging to articulate where they stood in relation to the themes under discussion. As mentioned earlier, it became clear quite quickly to all of the panels that engaging with the issues required some very hard thinking about what individual disciplines are able to contribute, necessitating acknowledgement of sometimes difficult home truths.
For example, the law panel realised that almost without thinking it tended to focus on narratives about electricity generation or oil and gas, perhaps because historically much research activity in the field has tended to concentrate on the activities of legal practitioners working with generating companies, the oil and gas sectors and government policymakers. This focus meant that narratives on crucial climate change mitigation/low-carbon transition issues such as energy efficiency, heating and transport were often missing from or overlooked in the legal literature. Coming to terms with the practice-driven and instrumental nature of law in the environmental context—most of which is statutory or regulatory rather than created by the courts—is also difficult culturally for legal academics, and the panel had to grapple with this as well as thinking about fresh perspectives for environmental law scholarship. The politics panel had to dig deep to work out what the core purpose of politics scholarship in relation to low-carbon transition in Scotland and elsewhere actually is before it could move on to addressing the issues. After much discussion, it felt that the fundamental role of environmental politics scholarship was to analyse political power: who has it, who wants it and how it works. Once this had been clarified, the panel went on to develop ideas on a number of important issues, not least about how interactional and possibly contributory interdisciplinary expertise could be built with the law and media panels. The literature and theatre and visual arts panels, while able to analyse themes and issues emerging from different forms of low-carbon narratives, often found it difficult to articulate the capacity of their disciplines to connect with policy-making and governance, which are fundamental to the delivery of effective low-carbon transition at the societal level. In this context, the visual arts panel ultimately took the view that art cannot change peoples’ behaviour in relation to low-carbon transition in a direct way (as politics or law can). What it can do, however, is have a potentially powerful influence on how individual people—including policy-makers—come to perceive environmental challenges. But for this to happen would effectively require a re-appraisal of the relationships between artists and their practice, and those who support, buy and curate their work.
After having gone through this process of frank self-reflection, however, each of the panels was able to develop themes and research questions to be taken forward in the development of an overarching inter-humanities report. It enabled participants to build a clearer picture of what the different humanities disciplines can usefully do, and how future collaboration between them can be structured in order to maximise potential and interact with other disciplines.
Fourthly, it was apparent in the RSE network that—understandably—many humanities scholars have very limited knowledge of science/social science quantitative methods and modelling. Of course, some humanities disciplines use both quantitative and qualitative methods, just as much social science is predominantly qualitative, as opposed to quantitative. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that contributory collaboration with quantitatively-focused scientists and social scientists—as opposed to interactional collaboration with them at stage 2 of the model (i.e., project development)—would often be so-called radical interdisciplinarity. As such, it would involve bridging large disciplinary gaps.
By contrast, the RSE network suggests that interaction between humanities scholars (and with qualitative social scientists) is easier to develop (see also (Little 2016a, p. 64
; DEA 2008
)). Despite methodological and substantive differences, there is often significant intellectual contiguity between disciplines such as, for example, history, law and politics; literature and performing arts; or visual arts and media. Collaboration between colleagues in environmental humanities can therefore often lead to interactional interdisciplinarity, and it has a reasonable prospect of developing beyond that into contributory expertise. Everybody involved is concerned with different aspects of similar socio-cultural issues, such as how to better understand and improve society’s responses to pollution, climate change, or the social process of transition to a low-carbon future.
That said, the RSE network also suggests that this potential should not be exaggerated: there is still a wide spectrum of connectivity within the humanities. So, for example, while history, politics and legal scholars might often find that they are concerned with closely related issues, the degree of connection between, say, an environmental lawyer and a visual artist would be more radical. Nonetheless, it would most likely still be moderate by comparison with the connection between a literature scholar and a climate scientist specialising in advanced quantitative modelling. In simple terms, therefore, working collaboratively within the humanities, although often difficult, is a much more realistic prospect than attempting to develop radical contributory expertise. Indeed, and although there have been a number of successful collaborations between the sciences, social sciences and the humanities (in the UK, the Royal Commission on the Environment is perhaps still the exemplar (Royal Commission 1998
)), the difficulties involved in trying to establish contributory expertise between most humanities disciplines and quantitatively-focussed scientific disciplines in particular are such that it should not be embarked on without extensive planning and resourcing.
A fifth point which emerged in the course of the RSE network is the importance of mapping where humanities disciplines lie relative to each other on the radical/moderate interdisciplinary spectrum. If there is better understanding of where and how disciplines are most likely to be able to make valuable contributions to interdisciplinary contributions on environmental issues, then this not only benefits the disciplines themselves, but also maximises the potential for effective planning of, and engagement in, interdisciplinary projects. Thus, in the RSE network, it has become apparent that disciplines such as politics, law and media can work together to make powerful contributions to understanding the significance and power of different types of official narratives at collective and societal levels. They really struggle, however, to connect their narratives and analyses with personal experience and motivations, which is also very important when, as is the case with low-carbon transition, influencing individual behaviour is a key issue. Literature, theatre, media and history are often able to do both in different ways and contexts, and while discourse in the visual arts can sometimes seem to get “stuck” on the practice of individual artists, leading eco-artists such as Helen and Newton Harrison have demonstrated that art can have significant influence on society through dynamic engagement with policy-makers (Harrison and Harrison 2016
). Thinking through and systematising this sort of interdisciplinary dynamic is, it is contended, valuable in developing the overall impact of the humanities in wider environmental debate: it is also rewarding as an interdisciplinary exercise in itself.