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Borrowed Knowledge

Chaos Theory and the Challenge of Learning across Disciplines

What happens to scientific knowledge when researchers outside the natural sciences bring elements of the latest trend across disciplinary boundaries for their own purposes? Researchers in fields from anthropology to family therapy and traffic planning employ the concepts, methods, and results of chaos theory to harness the disciplinary prestige of the natural sciences, to motivate methodological change or conceptual reorganization within their home discipline, and to justify public policies and aesthetic judgments.
Using the recent explosion in the use (and abuse) of chaos theory, Borrowed Knowledge and the Challenge of Learning across Disciplines examines the relationship between science and other disciplines as well as the place of scientific knowledge within our broader culture. Stephen H. Kellert’s detailed investigation of the myriad uses of chaos theory reveals serious problems that can arise in the interchange between science and other knowledge-making pursuits, as well as opportunities for constructive interchange. By engaging with recent debates about interdisciplinary research, Kellert contributes a theoretical vocabulary and a set of critical frameworks for the rigorous examination of borrowing.

288 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Culture Studies

Economics and Business: Economics--General Theory and Principles

History of Science

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy of Science

Physical Sciences: History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences


“Over the next several decades, we will continue to see the issues raised in Borrowed Knowledge: Chaos Theory and the Challenge of Learning across Disciplines as important to understanding both the natural and human sciences.”

Douglas Kiel, University of Texas at Dallas

“In Borrowed Knowledge, Stephen Kellert combines philosophy with rhetoric in a critical engagement with economists, literary, and legal theorists who import chaos theory in an attempt to widen and deepen their studies. His book is a model in two senses: it shows us how to borrow knowledge responsibly in order to gain insight into one’s own discipline and how to criticize others responsibly when they borrow knowledge from other disciplines.”

Alan G. Gross, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

“In his 1993, In the Wake of Chaos, Stephen Kellert clarified the claims and philosophical import of what is popularly termed ‘chaos theory.’ In Borrowed Knowledge, he sorts through cultural appropriations and misappropriations of chaos theory in substance and as metaphor, in the process discovering guidelines for fruitful cross-disciplinary borrowing.  This is a welcome study, timely now, and bound to be useful for the next big ideas in physics.”

Helen Longino, Stanford University

"Kellert examines ... disciplines other than physics or mathematics using chaos theory. He does an excellent job of discussing the pros and cons of applying chaos theory to fields like economics, literature, and the law. While doing so, Kellert develops something of a paradigm that could be applied more broadly to the notion of ’borrowing’ knowledge in general, which he feels is possible. His writing is clear, lively, enjoyable, and

accessible--traits not always found in philosophical writing. Whether readers have backgrounds in philosophy or not, they will find this an important contribution and resource for years to come."


“Stephen Kellert has written a clear and insightful monograph about disciplinary pluralism as a defense of knowledge crossing disciplinary boundaries.”

Marcel Boumans | History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

Table of Contents


1          What Was Chaos Theory, and Why Would People Want to Borrow It?
2          Disciplinary Pluralism
3          The Rhetorical Functions of Borrowing and the Uses of Disciplinary Prestige
4          Motivating Methodological Change
5          Metaphorical Chaos
6          How to Criticize a Metaphor
7          Facts, Values, and Intervention
8          Beautiful Chaos?
9          Postmodern Chaos and the Challenge of Pluralism
           Works Cited

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