A complex world needs thematic research.

Tema is now needed more than ever. With far more complicated questions at their tables, both politicians and research funders call for interdisciplinary expertise. We need research from several different perspectives and researchers that can see both breadth and depth of the major societal questions. That is what Roger Klinth, Head of Department at Thematic Studies, says on the question of what function Tema fills today.

A thematic way of working is no longer unusual within the world of research, as it was in the 1980s when the Department of Thematic Studies was founded.

- But I still believe that it is unusual that a whole department is built up around a thematic way of working even if there are several research groups and environments that work in that way.

Researchers from several disciplines can collaborate and this is understood in terms of both multi- and interdisciplinarity. Roger Klinth explains the difference:

- With a multidisciplinary way of working, the involved parties collaborate from subject-related platforms, but in a more pure interdisciplinary collaboration the disciplines are dissolved. The focus is on the syntheses and new entirety.

Even if Tema was a pioneer within interdisciplinary research, there are no demands to conform into fixed categories. Within the scope for thematic way of working, there is room for both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary attempts.

Interdisciplinarity demands the researcher to be able to handle several different perspectives, both theoretically and empirically. Roger Klinth speaks about the split vision.

It sounds messy?

- Yes, it can get messy but also creative. It is about challenges in new constellations. At the same time as it is important to point out Tema’s distinctive character, it is important not to exaggerate differences towards established subjects and disciplines. Several of today’s university subjects have an interdisciplinary construction, for example pedagogy or business economics. It is not always easy to draw sharp lines between what is a subject and what is a theme. Not seldom is subjects born through different kinds of multi- and interdisciplinary collaborations. Knowledge organization is constantly changing.

The choice of themes is not static either; it has changed over time and can change again. The four themes of today are: Child Studies, Environmental Change, Gender Studies, and Technology and Social Change and have been formed at different times through analyses of socially relevant interdisciplinary questions.

- The themes are not permanent, they have come and gone and that is the way it should be. When exciting phenomena in society arise, we should be able to answer to it.

What happens to doctors from Tema? Is there an academic career path for those with a doctoral degree from, for example, Child Studies?

- Yes, it works perfectly. You can find Tema doctors in a range of disciplines around universities, in Sweden and internationally. They are obviously competitive in a variety of contexts.

Although we see advantages with the thematic way of conducting research, that is no reason for regularization. Interdisciplinarity assumes that academia has a subject-related, disciplinary, order, he points out. The solution is not either/or, but both.

Roger Klinth sees very good possibilities for Tema in the future.

- Research funders are really looking for interdisciplinary expertise. The more we realize that everything in society is interrelated, the greater the need is. There are tremendously good possibilities for Tema.

That is something that also shows in the distribution of research funding. Tema is successful when it comes to drawing in external funding, especially with large program applications. The latest one being EHC, Environmental Humanities Collaboratory, where environmental issues will be examined from humanistic perspectives.