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Date of Award


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Berardi, Gigi M.

Second Advisor

Billings, Linda

Third Advisor

Rossiter, David A.


Astrobiology is an emerging field that addresses three fundamental questions: 1) How does “life,” defined as a “self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution,” (Mullen, 2013, p.1) in the Universe begin and evolve? 2) Does life exist elsewhere in the Universe? & 3) What is the future of life on Earth? With such intriguing questions, all rooted in human concerns, success in answering these questions depends upon the integration of diverse scientific disciplines, including the social sciences as well as the humanities. In this thesis, I state that integration can only happen through interdisciplinary knowledge production, defined as the process of answering a question, solving a problem, or addressing a subject involving several unrelated academic disciplines in a way that forces them to cross subject boundaries in order to create new knowledge and theory (Klein & Newell, 1998). Thus, this thesis addresses the following question – What are the barriers to the social sciences and humanities having a clear presence in Astrobiology research? And what are future prospects for acceptability and funding for interdisciplinary research in Astrobiology, especially from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which is the largest source of funding for Astrobiology (NRC, 2008)? In this thesis I review abstracts and categorize disciplinary identities of research articles published in Astrobiology, the oldest journal dedicated solely to Astrobiology, from 2001 to 2012. I then create annual spatial maps of Astrobiology research articles using bibliometrics, which are methods used to quantitatively analyze and create maps of academic literature origins. Specifically, I determine 1) the number of disciplines involved in specific Astrobiology articles, as well as 2) the extent to which a research article cites diverse disciplines. From this information, maps showing the predominance of disciplines as well as the distribution of citations, known as disciplinary diversity, are created. By looking at the organization of research, questions are raised about how disciplinary structures came about and what relationships exist among research disciplines. These questions are then analyzed through psychological and sociological ideas used to describe interdisciplinary research relationships. The results suggest that research shows little embeddedness (i.e. connection with) among multiple disciplines, likely due to entrenched disciplinary culture and privileging, in which researchers have a tendency to value and collaborate only with similar disciplines. This study concludes by offering a number of recommendations regarding promoting effective integration of the social science and humanities into Astrobiology.




Western Washington University

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