Biomedical Scientists' Perception of the Social Sciences in Health Research
Social Science & Medicine
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The growing interest in interdisciplinary research within the Canadian health sciences sector has been manifested by initiatives aimed at increasing the involvement of the social sciences in this sector. Drawing on Bourdieu's concept of field and Knorr-Cetina's concept of epistemic culture, this study explores the extent to which it is possible for the social sciences to integrate into, and thrive in, a field in which the experimental paradigm occupies a hegemonic position. Thirty-one semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore biomedical scientists' receptiveness toward the social sciences in general and to qualitative research in particular. We found that these respondents exhibited a predominantly negative posture toward the social sciences; however, we also found considerable variation in their judgments and explanations. Eight biomedical scientists tended to be receptive to the social sciences, 7 ambivalent, and 16 unreceptive. The main rationale expressed by receptive respondents is that the legitimacy of a method depends on its capacity to adequately respond to a research question and not on its conformity to the experimental canon. Unreceptive respondents maintained that the social sciences cannot generate valid and reliable results because they are not conducive to the experimental design as a methodological approach. Ambivalent respondents were characterized by their cautiously accepting posture toward the social sciences and, especially, by their reservations about qualitative methods. Based on the biomedical scientists' limited receptiveness, we can anticipate that the growth of the social sciences will continue to meet obstacles within the health research field in the near future in Canada.