Cover Page

Modeling Methodologies in Social Sciences Set

coordinated by

Roger Waldeck

Volume 1

Methods and Interdisciplinarity

Edited by

Roger Waldeck




This book is a follow-up to the 2018 winter school’s presentations entitled “Rencontres interdisciplinaires sur les systèmes complexes naturels et artificiels” (Interdisciplinary Meetings on Natural and Artificial Complex Systems) held each year in Rochebrune, France.

Interdisciplinarity is at the heart of the Rochebrune meetings and participants from all disciplines gather for five days in a unique place in the heart of the Alps to discuss a theme that changes every year. The result is a framework conducive to interdisciplinary exchange and questioning, whether on practices and methods or on objects. The disciplines present at Rochebrune generally agree that their object of study has the characteristics of complex systems, with the implication that the points of view between different disciplines on the same object may be interdependent or conducive to mutual enrichment. Rochebrune is therefore a privileged place for interdisciplinary dialogue, which makes it possible to shift disciplinary boundaries in a mutual enrichment of perspectives. The theme of Rochebrune 2018 was “Methods and Interdisciplinarity” and questioned a vision of disciplines trying to establish relationships between objects, methods, and finally points of view. This book includes a selection of the school’s presentations.

Methods and interdisciplinarity

The theme of the Rochebrune thematic course on the study of artificial and natural complex systems was “Methods and Interdisciplinarity” in 2018. The school’s stated aim was to understand the mechanisms of cooperation and hybridization between disciplines, and in particular the mechanisms for transferring methods or knowledge from one discipline to another. These are indeed central questions of interdisciplinarity. This growing need for new methods and cross-fertilized and multi-perspective knowledge on the same object of study and the hybridization process of one discipline with another are not independent, on the one hand, of the emergence of complex problems related to multiform objects of study and, on the other hand, on a stronger demand coming from society. This requires more cooperation between scientists than in the past. The complexity of an object of study comes precisely from the fact that the phenomena associated with it are not independent of each other. Interactions between different facets of the subject under study are central and make interdisciplinarity necessary as a corollary of complexity. For example, economists have long admitted that research on price formation can be done without considerations on the functioning of markets. The separation between sociologists involved in the study of interactions and economists involved in the study of price formation has prevailed for some time. However, the two phenomena, namely market structure and pricing, are not independent.

To define interdisciplinarity, it is already a matter of defining what a discipline is. Edgard Morin (1994) characterizes a scientific discipline by (translated from French):

the division and specialization of labor […]. Although encompassed within a broader scientific framework, a discipline naturally tends towards autonomy, through the delimitation of its boundaries, the language it constitutes, the techniques it is led to develop or use, and possibly through its own specific theories.

The discipline therefore creates its object of study and designs its methods. Disciplinary confinement can be detrimental both because the object of study cannot be contained in the frame and concerns of a single discipline, but also because in setting its conceptual framework, a discipline neglects facets or solutions outside that framework. Nevertheless, despite an institutional segmentation of disciplines, their knowledge and methods are, alike biological mechanisms subject to perpetual evolution under the mechanisms of selection, hybridization, and mutation: less efficient theories are replaced by better ones and hybridization between disciplines enriches existing theories in successive steps without challenging however the boundaries of the discipline field; the novelty appears through mutation, that is a reinterpretation and adaptation in the new discipline of observations, methods or knowledge from another discipline. In this sense, interdisciplinarity is permanent and occurs mainly at the margins, in particular due to conformism and preservation instinct from the scientific community.

Economics is a good example of hybridization. Homo economicus, a seminal concept of microeconomics, is slowly adapting to integrate criticism coming from experimental psychology or Simon’s concept of bounded rationality. Neoclassical theory is becoming more flexible by integrating the contribution coming from game theory or institutional economics. However, other radically different theories are sometimes proposed and there is then a coexistence without one theory taking precedence over the other. For example, the evolutionary theory of the firm, the philosophy of which is derived from Darwinian theory, proposes an alternative model to the rational theory of the firm.

Interdisciplinarity is therefore not simply a matter of a scientific research context comprising several disciplines. It is in contrast to the concept of multidisciplinarity, where each discipline operates in isolation, whereas in interdisciplinarity the desirable objective would be to answer a question by transcending disciplines in order to produce integrated knowledge. Barry et al. (2008) propose the following synthetic formulation on how to consider the relationships between disciplines:

Commonly, a distinction is made between multidisciplinarity – several disciplines cooperating but without altering their standard disciplinary frameworks – and interdisciplinarity – for which an effort is made to integrate or synthesize perspectives from different disciplines.

In the case of interdisciplinarity, it is indeed a question of considering a cross-fertilization between disciplines that is mutually enriching. Multidisciplinarity is a rapprochement of disciplines around an object either by complementarity of approaches or by complementary points of view on the object, but each one keeping its methods and frameworks. Interdisciplinarity would therefore consist of bringing together knowledge, methods, and experiments between disciplines, with the aim of making them coherent and articulating knowledge around the study of an object or question (Ramadier 2004). In return, each of the disciplines is enriched by this experience, either in its methods, theories or experiments.

Chapter 1 by Livet analyzes precisely the different forms that interdisciplinarity can take. He presents a variety of interdisciplinary modes of interaction through examples from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies and proposes a typology of these modes of interaction. Notably, he shows cases of interdisciplinarity: by transfer of methods, with cross fertilization of points of view, with confrontation of theories through experimentation, with recursive loops (one discipline being the subject of studies of the other), with a combination of experimental methods, and finally interdisciplinarity by sharing fields/objects, but without sharing methods. Livet speaks, in this case, of interdisciplinarity by convergence on interrelated phenomena, which is a form of multidisciplinarity, each discipline keeping a certain autonomy from the others except that the results of one discipline affect the perspectives of the other disciplines.

In Chapter 2 Pumain analyzes the evolution of geography following the emergence of new processes related to computer science and digitization in her discipline. The main question concerns the epistemological transformations of geography due to the new practices associated with digitization. Pumain considers three main steps in this digitization: an instrumental use of computational tools by geography, particularly for data analysis and processing, then a partial assimilation of computer concepts adapted to geography, and finally a feedback interaction where dimensions of geography are used in computer productions. In Livet’s categorization, it would be a question of interdisciplinarity through the interpenetration of methods.

The following two contributions (Chapters 3 and 4) show the importance of knowledge representation formalisms in the interdisciplinary dialogue. Going back to the categories of Pierre Livet, they involve both interactions between researchers by combining disciplines and the application of existing formalisms coming from one discipline to other fields of study.

Labeyrie, Caillon, Salpeteur and Thomas mobilize network analysis for the study of socio-ecological systems. Three examples are presented and discussed, showing how network analysis can articulate qualitative and quantitative approaches. The first case concerns the link between seed genetics and social anthropology with the aim of testing the effect of ethnolinguistic organization on seed circulation. In the second case, social network analysis allows food plants with different biocultural status within a community in Vanuatu to be monitored through trade networks. The third example examines how formal (migration groups, gender) or informal (friendships) relationships impact the transmission of local naturalistic knowledge within nomadic herder groups in India.

Müller dissects the process of building knowledge on the same object from several points of view. To do this, he uses the UML (Unified Modeling Language) formalism to represent visions of several disciplines (botany, phylogenetics, organoleptics) on Madagascar pepper. Müller shows how the confrontation of different ontologies allows for:

  • – first, clarifying the debates on concepts shared by different disciplines, illustrated here by the notion of species;
  • – second, articulating complementary points of view to facilitate dialogue, illustrated here by the articulation of the notion of sector with the notion of quality chain.

The classifications made by each of the disciplines do not lead to a unified vision of the notion of species, which is above all a social construct. Müller also discusses the dialogue between modelers and scientists, particularly on the construction of an ontology in an approach involving the participants. Müller’s interdisciplinary discourse emphasizes both the contribution of a methodology of knowledge representation coming from the computer sciences that allows dialogue between different stakeholders, but also shows how different disciplinary points of view on the same subject challenge the points of view of other disciplines, that is an interdisciplinarity by convergence on interrelated phenomena.

In Chapter 5 Waldeck, Gaultier Le Bris, and Rouvrais compare the points of view of different disciplines on the same subject: decision-making in VUCA environments (for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). They aim to show how different disciplines whose object of study is decision-making define differently the same VUCA concepts. A formalism already developed by the decision sciences is used to define the VUCA concepts and comparison with the definition used in the management sciences is made. The stake of the comparison is a possible convergence to a future common theoretical corpus on VUCA decision-making.

In Chapter 6 Gaultier Le Bris, Rouvrais, and Waldeck discuss how VUCA concepts can be used in an educational environment. The interaction goes in both directions: VUCA concepts give rise to the implementation of pedagogical experiments and pedagogical experiments lead the experimenter to specify how VUCA concepts should be instantiated. We can speak of interdisciplinarity through the interpenetration of methods, here between methods relating to the “Design Research” approach in educational pedagogies with formalisms drawn from the management sciences and applied to VUCA.

In Chapter 7 Haralambous deals with a little-known discipline, which has been neglected by Saussurian linguists, in favor of phonology: graphematics. After a short introduction to this discipline and its tribulations, he proposes three approaches to graphematics from three different disciplines: mathematics with a spectral decomposition of graphemes that allows for, without any information other than their combinations, finding the “consonants” and “vowels”, biometrics which, based on precise measurements of time differences between keyboard keys pressed when writing a German word, makes it possible to find its morphological structure, and steganography, where the variability of the transcription from the Greek to the Latin alphabet can be used to hide information in it.

The authors

Sophie Caillon

Sophie Caillon, an ethno-ecologist, questions the interactions between humans and non-humans, particularly in agricultural environments between Vanuatu and the Gaillac wine-growing area. She integrates a diversity of qualitative and quantitative approaches to address topics as diverse as biocultural diversity, seed circulation, indicators of well-being or attachment to place.

Sophie Gaultier Le Bris

Sophie Gaultier Le Bris is a lecturer in management sciences at the École Navale where she has been teaching future officers since 2005 as head of academic leadership training. Her research focuses on decision-making in complex environments with a focus on increased reliability and resilience. She has founded a “Resilience and Leadership” Research Chair – in partnership with UBO, Université de Rennes 1, and with the support of Naxicap, Safran, and the Banque Française Mutualiste – from where she graduated, and which was launched at the beginning of the 2018 academic year.

Yannis Haralambous

Yannis Haralambous is a professor-researcher in the computer sciences department of IMT Atlantique and a member of the DECIDE team of the Lab-STICC laboratory of the CNRS. His research area covers automatic language processing, text mining, knowledge management as well as graphics and digital typography.

Vanesse Labeyrie

Vanesse Labeyrie is an agro-ecologist at CIRAD, attached to the UR GREEN “Management of Renewable Resources and Environment”. She studies plant diversity management practices in agricultural landscapes in West Africa and Madagascar, as well as their transformations in response to global changes. Her research aims in particular to characterize the networks of plant material and agro-ecological knowledge circulation in rural societies practicing family farming, and to analyze their role in these agrarian transformations.

Pierre Livet

Pierre Livet is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and a member of the CNRS Centre Gilles Gaston Granger team. His research focuses on the epistemology and ontology of the social sciences (sociology, economics) and cognitive sciences, the theory of action, emotions, and interactions.

Jean-Pierre Müller

Jean-Pierre Müller is a scientific officer at the Centre de Coopération internationale pour la recherche en agronomie pour le développement (CIRAD) in the Unité propre de recherche (UPR) “gestion des ressources naturelles et environnement” GREEN (management of natural and environmental resources), and a specialist in artificial intelligence and multi-agent systems. His research focuses on the modeling of complex systems, more specifically socio-environmental systems, and on the modeling process itself, from disciplinary discourse to simulations and multi-agent models.

Denise Pumain

Denise Pumain, Professor Emeritus of Geography, is cofounder of the Geography-Cités laboratory and creator of the electronic journal Cybergeo in 1996. Author of an evolutionary theory of city systems, she transfers concepts and models of complex systems (self-organization, laws of scale, spatio-temporal dynamics) to geography.

Siegfried Rouvrais

Siegfried Rouvrais holds a doctorate in computer science from the Université de Rennes. He is a researcher in systems and software engineering, member of AFNOR, member of the IEEE Senior, member of the research lab Lab-Sticc and expert with the Commission des titres d’ingénieur. He has devoted many years to teaching engineering at a leading general engineering school, IMT Atlantique. More recently, he has been interested in models and methods for the improvement of higher education training, at the crossroads of many points of view, particularly through European and international projects.

Matthieu Salpeteur

Matthieu Salpeteur is an anthropologist at the IRD, attached to the UMR PALOC “Local Heritage, Environment and Globalization” (IRD-MNHN). He mobilizes a mixed methodology to study contemporary transformations of pastoral systems in India, facing a range of social and environmental changes.

Mathieu Thomas

Mathieu Thomas is a geneticist at CIRAD, part of the AGAP research unit “genetic improvement and adaptation of Mediterranean and tropical plants” (INRA-CIRAD-SupAgro). He studies the impact of individual and collective agricultural practices on the evolution of cultivated diversity in Western Europe and West Africa. He uses modeling by combining population genetics approaches (meta populations) and statistics (network analysis) and collaborates with ethnologists and anthropologists specializing in agricultural seed circulation.

Roger Waldeck

Roger Waldeck is an associate professor at IMT Atlantique and a research member of the Laboratoire d’Économie et de Gestion de l’Ouest (LEGO). His current research focuses on methods for modeling and analysing complex social systems.


Sophie Gaultier Le Bris, Siegfried Rouvrais, and Roger Waldeck received support from the European Union’s Erasmus+ program1. Their chapters only reflect the authors’ point of view. The Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained in these chapters.


Barry, A., Born, G., Weszkalnys, G. (2008). Logics of interdisciplinarity. Economy and Society, 37(1), 2049.

Lawrence, R.J., Després, C. (2004). Futures of Transdisciplinarity. Futures, 36(4), 397-405.

Lyall, C., Bruce, A., Marsden, W., Meagher, L. (2013). The role of funding agencies in creating interdisciplinary knowledge. Science and Public Policy, 40(1), 62-71. [Online]. Available at:

Morin, E. (1994). Sur l’interdisciplinarité. Ciret. [Online]. Available at:

Ramadier, T. (2004). Transdisciplinary and its challenge: The case of urban studies. Futures, 36(126), 423-439.

August 2019

  1. 1 DAhoy Project, DecisionShip Ahoy, number 2017-1-FR01-KA203-037301,