The environment and its role in the origin of human health and disease is currently a common research object in life sciences (in particular, environmental epigenetics) and in social sciences (e.g., in medical anthropology and social epidemiology). However, the way it is conceived, defined, and operationalized is tremendously heterogeneous. First of all, it is not homogeneous within biological and biomedical sciences themselves (e.g., behavioral epigenetics, environmental epigenetics, epidemiology, etc.). Second, as one should expect, the concept of environment and its measurements are especially heterogeneous between life sciences (both biological and biomedical research) and social sciences. It can be limited to material factors internal and/or external to our bodies, which is often the case in biology, but can also include higher level factors of different nature (psychological, social, economic, historical, and cultural), which is mostly the case in social sciences. What is considered as the environment can thus have different, not necessarily overlapping, spatio-temporal boundaries, that which implies different ways of representing and modelling the process leading to environmentally induced pathologies.
Questions and objectives
The EnviroBioSoc project asks whether it is possible and suitable to overcome this state of conceptual and epistemological pluralism by looking for an interdisciplinary integrative account combining the various approaches used to study the relationship health-environment, in life and in social sciences. It also investigates under which conditions an interdisciplinary and integrative approach leads up to some epistemic and/or pragmatic gain (if any), i.e., for our knowledge about the impact of the environment on our health state, and for our ability to prevent and treat environmentally induced illness, and so to produce socio-economic benefits.
The main originality of this project is to tackle these issues in a systematic way across life and social sciences, and from the point of view of the debate, in contemporary philosophy of science, on scientific pluralism.
The EnviroBioSoc project is structured in three tasks.
The first aims at dressing a detailed overview of the concept of environment throughout life and social sciences that study environmentally induced diseases. The second aims at exploring possible modes of integration of the various ways the environment and diseases it induces are studied across all these sciences, and at evaluating under which conditions an integrative approach would bring about some epistemic and/or pragmatic gain, if any. The third task aims at investigating the corresponding modes of collaboration between life and social sciences in environmental health studies or, at least, the possible ways disciplinary studies of environmentally induced diseases can take advantage from each other.
The objective of the EnviroBioSoc project is to produce a comprehensive philosophical reflection on all these issues, in permanent and strong collaboration with researchers in biological, biomedical, and social sciences.