Liminality in practice: A case study in life sciences research
© 2018 The Author(s) Contemporary health challenges (e.g., diabetes, climate change, antimicrobial resistance) are underpinned by complex interrelationships between behavioural, cultural, social, environmental and biological processes. Current experimental systems are only partially relevant to the problems they investigate, but aspirations to embed interdisciplinary working and community engagement into life scientists’ work in response to this partiality have proven difficult in practice. This paper explores one UK university-based life sciences research initiative as it seeks to develop modes of working which respond to this complexity. Drawing on ‘liminal hotspots’ as a sensitising concept, we explore how participating academics articulate complex problems, knowledge-making, interdisciplinary working and community engagement. Our analysis shows they become recurrently ‘trapped’ (institutionally and epistemologically) between fixed/universalised cosmologies of biology/disease, and more contemporary cosmologies in which biology and disease are conceptualised as situated and evolving. Adopting approaches to community organising based on ‘process pragmatism’, we propose ways in which life scientists might radically reorganise their practice and move beyond current limiting enactments of interdisciplinary and community engaged working. In doing so, we claim that the relevance and ‘humanness’ of life science research will be increased.