Sunday, September 13, 2009

Enacting social sciences and humanities within contemporary science policy landscape

Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic; May 21–22, 2009

We observe – and experience – today science policies intervening intimately into scientific lives. While the timing and scope differ for countries the general tendency is clear: science policies strive to measure impact and effectiveness of research, enhance and channel mobility of researchers, stimulate collaborations and knowledge transfer between the academy and industry. Like other neoliberal policies science policy pretends to be apolitical and care solely about “excellence” and “effectiveness”. The aim of the workshop was to disclose and analyse the politics - of knowledge and social order - implicated in the policy interventions by starting from the observation that while the measure and quality criteria employed are most often formulated as universal for science as a whole many of them prioritise the model of knowledge production and career in (certain) natural sciences and technical disciplines.
Following on previous workshops aimed at studying social sciences and humanities (SSH) from STS perspective we focused at treatment of social sciences and humanities (SSH) within science policies in different contexts. This dimension emerged as important for understating the contemporary enactments of SSH. The goal of the workshop is to map the diversity – or uniformity – of policy treatments of SSH in different countries; to investigate some of the implications these polices have for knowledge production and research careers in SSH; and to think about implications current polices have for so called “knowledge society” we are living in.
It was obvious from all the presentations that SSH have a highly ambiguous position within contemporary science policy strategies. On one hand they are rather invisible as science policies, modelled very strongly in accordance to the socio-epistemic patterns of natural science and technical disciplines, are most often presented as universally applicable to any scientific disciplines. On the other hand, however, they are highly visible as they do not easily fit this seemingly universal framework (SSH researchers protesting to science policies; partial adjustments for SSH in research assessment criteria) and they are also subject to policy measures in some countries and on the EU level in the form of special programmes (e.g. “2007 Year of Humanities” in Germany).

Abstracts of presentations:
1. Claire Donovan (Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University):
The Governance of Social Science and Humanities Research in Australia

At the turn of the 19th century, due to the centrality of progressive social planning in driving its public policy, Australia was dubbed the ‘world’s social laboratory’. In the 21st century this is but a dim and distant memory. The rise of technocratic forms of governance has relegated the social sciences and humanities (SSH) to the periphery of Australia’s public policy planning, and to the outer margins of its government’s science and innovation portfolio. This paper is concerned with the contingent ‘otherness’ of SSH research in contemporary Australian public policy and science governance, and the place of interpretive SSH research in particular.
One case study is presented: direct ministerial intervention in the award of Australian Research Council (ARC) grants to SSH researchers. Narratives of this dilemma are used to reveal competing traditions of science governance, and underlying beliefs about the legitimacy and relevance of SSH research. These traditions provide a backdrop to examine the creation of Australia’s National Research Priorities, and the construction of science and innovation policies aimed at evaluating research ‘quality’ and ‘impact’. The paper examines the ‘otherness’ of SSH within these policy processes. It also reflects on the success and failure of various strategies designed by the SSH community to promote the value of its research to government, particularly ‘non-scientific’ ways of knowing

2. Tereza Stöckelová (Institute of Sociology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic)
The concept of academic and societal impact in the Czech science policy

The paper discusses science policy for SSH in the Czech Republic with the focus on the concept of “impact” inscribed into the criteria of research evaluation. I look first at the development of the system of research evaluation since it was introduced in 2004, changes in values ascribed to different types of scientific outputs and the position of SSH within the system. I discuss the culmination of the effort in creation of a special “National reference frame of excellence” into which some of the SSH disciplines were assigned, while others remained to be evaluated according to the same criteria as natural and technical sciences. I discuss argumentation for this exemption of some but not all of the SSH disciplines. I argue that the introduction of this kind of classification reinforces the hegemony of conceiving impact in terms of internationality, commercialization and technologization (the hegemony by which some of the SSH disciplines are granted an exception) rather than opening up imagination for other, more diverse modes of thinking about it.

3. Katja Mayer and Veronika Wöhrer (University of Vienna)
Relevance and Impact of SSH in the Austrian Context

This contribution attempts to shed a different perspective on Austrian policy discourses related to programs focusing on SSH, which were recently established: There is a program for SSH run by the Ministry of Science and Research (BMWF), there are attempts to foster SSH research in the biggest Austrian research foundation for basic research (Austrian Science Fund, FWF) and there are other founding institutions, like the research funding body of the City of Vienna (Vienna Science and Technology Fund, WWTF), which occasionally run programs dedicated to SSH. We intend to read and analyse related documents in search for rhetorics of impact and relevance assigned to SSH. Our main interest is to find out what perceptions of societal relevance and economic, social or academic impact of SSH are inscribed in these initiatives.
Furthermore we ask: how are concepts of impact and relevance of SSH to Austrian society shaped by qualitative and quantitative criteria? Does a turn to quantitative criteria constitute circumvention of missing concepts of quality? But we assume that in such attempts of quantitative commodification nevertheless certain perceptions of “quality” are inscribed, but not necessarily made explicit.

We argue on the basis of the following documents, which give an overview on the main institutions of Austrian science policy: 1) Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research, Programme on SSH; 2) SSH Calls of The Vienna Science and Technology Fund WWTF; 3) “Discussion Paper concerning The Situation and Problems of SSH” of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF); 4) “Structure of SSH in Austria”, Report on behalf of the Austrian Council for Research and Technology Development (RFTE).

4. Alice Červinková (Institute of Sociology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic):

In my presentation I will focus on analysing a part of the document National politics of Research, Development and Innovations, specifically on the part devoted to social sciences and humanities titled “Priorities for the development of Czech society”, which is now undergoing the comment and approval procedure.
The document suggests five areas of concern: 1. Governance and administration; 2. Human potential of the CR, its reproduction and development; 3. Competitiveness of Czech society; 4. Czech identity and surrounding world; and finally 5. Technologies and methods. Whereas the fourth priority concerning Czech identity is indicated to be a more separate area of concern (of the humanities), the other areas are indicated to be interlinked in a synergic way and come under the concern of social sciences.
I raise two concerns in my presentation. First, I will look into the anticipated synergies between the priorities: How are the synergies constructed in the document? What are the expectations placed on social sciences in this respect? How should they contribute to the construction of these synergies? I will also look into the separation of the priority Czech identity and surrounding world and will be concerned with the question what arguments have been developed to detach this area from the other priorities.
The document introduces the concept of evidence based-policies into the area of social sciences and humanities? Evidence-based policies constitute not only a methodological approach but also have an important impact on the enactment of the relationship between social scientists, policy makers and society. My second concern is related to this: What are the expectations and assumptions behind this introduction? What kind of social science approaches will be prioritised and regarded as useful and what approaches might be marginalised?

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