Organizing Complexity

The Hopeful Dreams and Harsh Realities of Interdisciplinary Collaboration at the Rand Corporation in the Early Cold War

Article appearing in Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Volume 51, Issue 1

Historians argue that in the early Cold War an interdisciplinary research culture defined the RAND Corporation. However, a significant epistemological gap divided the members of RAND’s Social Science Division (SSD) from the rest of the organization. While the social scientists used qualitative methods, most RAND researchers embraced quantified approaches and derided the social sciences as unscientific. This encouraged RAND’s social scientists to develop a political-military simulation that embraced everything—politics, culture, and psychology—that RAND’s other analysts largely ignored. Yet the fact that the SSD embraced gaming, a heuristic practiced throughout RAND, suggests that the political simulation was nonetheless inspired by social scientists’ engagement with their colleagues. This indicates that the concept of interdisciplinarity should move beyond its implication of collaboration to incorporate instances in which research agendas are defined against but also shaped by colleagues in other disciplines. Such a rethinking of the term may make it possible to trace how varieties of interdisciplinary interaction historically informed knowledge production.