Session 2 Scientists and their publics (1)

20th June, 14.00-16.00, Chair: Aaro Tupasela, Room Polivalente

Re-ordering Science-Society Relations in the Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research, Thomas Völker (Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, Ispra, Italy)

Over the past decades we have witnessed a growing interest in science-society relations. Starting from a linear understanding of informing deficient publics in order to gain trust in and legitimacy for technoscientific endeavors academic as well as political debates have added several layers of criticism and alteration (Felt et al., 2013) and in doing so directed attention to the complexities of such relations (see e.g. Horst & Irwin, 2009; Irwin & Wynne, 1996). In my talk I focus on transdisciplinary as one of the more recent attempts to re-think and re-order science-society relations. Situated within debates about mode 2 knowledge production (Nowotny, Scott, & Gibbons, 2001), post-normal Science (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993) and the triple helix (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 1998), work on transdisciplinary research pictures so-called ‘traditional’ or ‘mainstream’ science as ill-equipped for dealing with contemporary challenges and calls for the integration of heterogeneous actors into knowledge production processes. Extra-scientific actors thus are invited to collaborate with scientists and researchers, science shall be done with society. Calls for transdisciplinary research can thus be regarded as an example for attempts of achieving a more profound and long-term integration of science and society.

Against the background of these debates I want to present a case study of an Austrian research funding program called proVISION[1]. This program has funded research projects in the area of sustainability research. In contrast – and even explicit opposition – to other sustainability funding schemes proVISION explicitly required the projects to apply transdisciplinary research methods in order to accomplish its mission to ‘make knowledge available’ and to foster a ‘new science culture’ of ‘responsible care’. In this sense the program can be understood as an attempt to create spaces of collective experimentation (Felt, Igelsböck, Schikowitz, & Völker, 2016).

Drawing on policy documents, ethnographic observations and extensive interview material I will in a first step briefly carve out the program’s vision of re-ordering science-society relations and trace the historical development of this collective imagination (Anderson, 1991; Appadurai, 2006 [1990]; Felt, 2015; Jasanoff & Kim, 2015) in Austrian sustainability research. In a second step I will focus on concrete practices of producing and circulating anticipatory knowledge in transdisciplinary collaborations and ask how this imagination gets ‘translated’ (Law, 2003) by researchers in their projects and how the supposed re-ordering is enacted in practice. Focusing on particular instances of transdisciplinary collaboration I will show how different forms participation emerge together with subject positions, collectives and futures. Additionally I will direct attention to the tensions that emerge in these assemblages of heterogeneous actors; tensions between ideas of long-time engagement of care on the one side and temporary project logics on the other. I will then close the presentation by reflecting on the broader implications of the insights gained in this case study. Using the example of (plans for) an ‘Engagement Lab’ at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Ispra I will lay out potential ways of re-thinking science society relations through material deliberation.


Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York: Verso.

Appadurai, A. (2006 [1990]). Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy. In M. G. Durham & D. M. Kellner (Eds.), Media and Cultural Studies: Key Works (pp. 584-603). Malden, Oxford and Victoria: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Etzkowitz, H., & Leydesdorff, L. (1998). The Endless Transition: A “Triple Helix” of University – Industry – Government Relations. Minerva, 36, 203-208.

Felt, U. (2015). Keeping Technologies Out: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Formation of a National Technopolitical Identity. In S. Jasanoff & S.-H. Kim (Eds.), Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Felt, U., Barben, D., Irwin, A., Joly, P.-B., Rip, A., Stirling, A., & Stöckelová, T. (2013). Science in Society: Caring for Our Futures in Turbulent Times. Strasbourg: European Science Foundation.

Felt, U., Igelsböck, J., Schikowitz, A., & Völker, T. (2016). Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research in Practice: Between Imaginaries of Collective Experimentation and Entrenched Academic Value Orders. Science, Technology & Human Values. doi:10.1177/0162243915626989

Funtowicz, S., & Ravetz, J. (1993). Science for the Post-Normal Age. Futures, 25(7), 739-757.

Horst, M., & Irwin, A. (2009). Nations at Ease With Radical Knowledge: On Consensus, Consensusing and False Consensusness. Social Studies of Science, 0306312709341500. doi:10.1177/0306312709341500

Irwin, A., & Wynne, B. (1996). Misunderstanding science? The public reconstruction of science and technology: Cambridge University Press.

Jasanoff, S., & Kim, S.-H. (Eds.). (2015). Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Law, J. (2003). Traduction/Trahison: Notes on ANT. Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University, Lancaster.

Nowotny, H., Scott, P., & Gibbons, M. (2001). Re-thinking Science. Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.

[1], accessed March 24, 2016 (unfortunately this page is only available in German and the original program website is no longer online)


Science-society relations in the context of energy transitions: how scientist working on renewable energy technologies perceive their role in society?, Luís Junqueira (ICS ULisboa, Portugal)

The transition from fossil fuel based energy production to sustainable alternatives is a key challenge in contemporary societies. Research plays a vital part in that transition effort as the ability to foster renewable energy adoption is dependent on the development of more efficient and less expensive technology. Over the last few decades the European Union increasingly promoted sustainable energy as an essential part of its Framework Programmes (and more recently as one of six key societal goals in the Horizon 2020 Programme) leading to a consolidation of research communities working renewable energy technologies and related fields of research.

Science-society relations take a particular shape when they involve a subject as prominent in contemporary societies as renewable energies. They are integral part of an ongoing sociotechnical transition that is both tied to powerful private interests and to public concerns frequently discussed within civil society and the media. In this context scientists’ engagement with society is embedded in a broader political discussion. Not only is science tied to the usual narrative of scientific production as a public good and source of socioeconomic prosperity but also packaged with specific and controversial political goals such as the need of counteracting climate change and national energy dependence through the use of sustainable and endogenous energy sources as alternative for fossil fuel sources.

This presentation aims to understand how scientists working in renewable energies perceive the role of science and of their particular field in a society engaged in a profound energy transition. This works draws on semi-directed interviews with Portuguese researchers working on a range of different renewable energies technologies.

This presentation is based on the work developed for the PhD programme in Sociology, in progress at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon and funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).


Legitimacy of impacts: The case of the Dutch national research evaluation framework, Stefan de Jong (LURIS and CWTS, Leiden University, The Netherlands), Leonie van Drooge (Rathenau Instituut, The Hague, The Netherlands), Ingeborg Meijer (CWTS, Leiden University, The Netherlands)

In the 1980s, New Public Management (NPM) gained force as a policy paradigm for the public  sector. NPM introduces a focus on efficiency and results to the public sectori. Budget cuts and the gap between scientific excellence and economic competitiveness allowed NPM to penetrate the higher education sectorii. One of the effects of NPM is the change in nature and frequency of evaluations in the sector, as evaluation is a key mechanism of NPM to control the performance of public organizationsiii. Nowadays, evaluations no longer are a responsibility of academic peers only, as societal actors, including government, gained influence in evaluationsiv.

A key outcome of evaluations for the evaluand is legitimacyv. Legitimacy is defined by Suchman (p. 574) as: ‘…a generalized perception or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions.’

In this paper we are interested in ‘the socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs and definitions’ captured in (national) systems of quality assurance in academic research (SQAAR) initiated by government. In SQAAR, norms, values, beliefs and definitions of government on quality meet those of academics.

More specifically, we are interested in the societal impact criterion in SQAAR. In Europe, the importance of this criterion steeply increased in the 2000’s as a result of a stronger focus on the contribution of research to the knowledge economy (the Lisbon Declaration). Since then, European and national governments have articulated their ideas about societal impact of academic research stronger than ever, using concepts like knowledge transfer, pathway to impact and valorisation. Likewise academics have professional views on societal impact. Academics have engaged with societal actors long before government gained a policy interest in societal impact of sciencevi,vii.

Our research questions is as follows: How do norms, values, beliefs and definitions of government concerning impact as articulated in SQAAR relate to those of academics?

To answer this question, we take the Netherlands as a case, as it was among the first two countries to adopt SQAARviii. Since 1993, all academic research in the Netherlands is evaluated retrospectively every six years (initially every four years) by a committee of (inter)national peers. The committee uses a generic framework as basis for the evaluation. Impact has been a criterion since 1993, be it under different terms and definitions.

The approach is mixed-method: we use quantitative and qualitative data sources. Our data include the five consecutive evaluation frameworks; all 222 evaluation reports, including scores for 4765 units, published between 1993 and 2012; eight focus groups with academics and three case studies in different fields. This approach provides an in depth view on the governmental perspective, the academic perspective, and their interaction.

The answer to our research question will contribute to discussions about 1) the relationship between science policy and practice, in particular concerning social impact and 2) the improvement of SQAAR in order to prevent potential undesired effects.


i Pollit, C. & G. Bouckaert. (2000). Public management reform. A comparative analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

ii Braun, D. (2005). ‘How to govern research in the ‘age of innovation’: compatibilities’ and incompatibilities of policy rationales’. In: Lengwiler, M. & D. Simon (eds.) New governance

arrangements in science policy. Berlin: Social Science Research Centre.

iii Lane, J.E. (1993). The Public Sector. London: Sage.

iv Cozzens, S. E. & T. Turpin. (2000). ‘Processes and Mechanisms for Evaluating and Monitoring Research Outcomes from Higher Education: International Comparisons’. In: Research Evaluation 8, no. 1, pp. 3–4.

v Suchman, M.C. (1995). ‘Managing legitimiacy: Strategic and institutional approaches’. In: Academy of Management Review 20, pp. 571-610.

vi Meyer-Thurow, G. (1982). The industrialization of invention: A case study from the German chemical industry. In: Isis 73, pp. 363-381.

vii Fasseur, C. (1993). De Indologen: Ambtenaren voor de Oost 1825-1950. Houten: Aula

viii Geuna, A. & B. Martin. (2003). ‘University research evaluation and funding: An international comparison’. In: Minerva 41, pp. 277-304.


Bringing science to public: is it still a matter for scientific associations?, Cristina Palma Conceição (ISCTE-IUL Lisbon University Institute, Portugal)

Learned societies are among the earliest communicators of science. Public lectures and demonstrations were at the core of their activities in early modern science. However, their role in the contemporary movement of public understanding of science is hardly ever discussed, even though organisations such as the Royal Society and the British Society for the Advancement of Science have played a key part in it.

In a field that seems to be dominated by research institutions, keen to raise public awareness of their own work, and specialised institutions, such as science centres, what is the importance of the activities carried out by associations? In what way do they differ from other players in the field? And how relevant are these activities to the associations’ own functioning?

The aim is to examine the public communication of science activities carried out by two types of associations: the (older) scientific societies (mostly of a disciplinary nature), in which PUS is becoming an increasingly important issue, though part of a wider array of actions and functions; and associations that work mainly in this field (astronomy clubs, nature groups, science promotion NGOs).

More often the first type of associations opt for one-way, top-down communication formats, while the later tend to choose more diversified and innovative formats (eg. ‘hands-on’, ‘citizen science’, etc.). The associations more exclusively devoted to science dissemination involve a more diverse range of members (scientists, teachers, lay people) and its growth can be an indicator of an increasing dialogue between science and society.

This paper draws from a research project concerning Portuguese scientific associations, based on case studies that comprised interviews to directors, document analysis, ethnographic observation at events and surveys of members. The associations’ participation in national science dissemination campaigns is also analyzed (comparing to other institutions).