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Session Overview
RN24_01b: Sociological concepts for comparative science and technology studies
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Jochen Glaser, TU Berlin
Session Chair: Thomas Franssen, Leiden University
Location: UP.3.214
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Third Floor Oxford Road

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Which Concepts Support The Comparison Of Researchers’ Autonomy In Different Research Systems And Fields?

Grit Laudel

Technical University Berlin, Germany

In this study I investigate how researchers move from early career to mid-career in four countries (Germany, UK, France, USA) and in two science fields (experimental physics, theoretical chemistry). I conducted interviews with researchers on their first position that formally guarantees independent research (lecturer, assistant professor, junior professor, maître de conference). The project will answer the question as to if and how researchers in these positions achieve sufficient autonomy for realising the individual research programmes they developed during their postdoctoral phase.

This requires a concept of autonomy that supports the comparison of researchers’ situations, control over which researchers share with other actors such as the university, senior group leaders, funding agencies and members of their scientific community. These actors exercise authority through the control of resources, reputation and career opportunities (Whitley et al. 2018). Autonomy is the degree of control over goal achievement that remains with an actor who is influenced by others (Gläser and Schimank 2014).

This conceptualisation enables comparisons of researchers’ actual autonomy that go beyond properties of formal positions. I compare the authority relations, i.e. the authority over research goals exercised by each actor, and the specific sets of conditions of action produced by these authority relations. This leads to an empirical typology of ‘autonomy profiles’ and of mechanisms that create them.

Changing Conditions for Innovation in Different Arts and Sciences

Richard Drummond Whitley1, Jochen Glaeser2

1University of Manchester, United Kingdom; 2Technical University, Berlin, Germany

The modern arts and sciences have become novelty-driven systems of cultural production generating three kinds of innovations that make other producers change their priorities and practices. Incremental innovations are minor shifts in how work is organised and conducted, while complementary innovations establish new priorities, epistemic and aesthetic standards and technical procedures for new areas of novelty production. Displacement innovations replace established priorities, standards and practices.

The processes by which novelties become accepted as innovations reflect the strength of different forms of mutual dependence between producers in scientific communities and art worlds, which include audiences for works of art and the intermediaries shaping their assessment and distribution. These forms can be functional in which producers depend directly on each other’s contributions, concerned with production standards or focused on significance standards. While strong levels of interdependence can inhibit the adoption of radically unorthodox innovations, lower levels limit the speed and generality of adoption of novelties throughout fields.

Interdependence is affected by the conditions governing the allocation of symbolic rewards and of the means necessary for continued novelty production, especially the extent of producer authority over epistemic and aesthetic standards and goals and the diversity of sources of support. These conditions are changing in many fields and societies in ways that may concentrate innovation opportunities on scientific elites and intermediary gatekeepers in the arts.

A Role Theoretical Approach For Analysing Socio-technical Innovations

Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer

Technical University of Berlin, Germany

Each successful innovation requires many heterogeneous components to become mutually adapted to each other, resulting in a sufficiently consistent and coherent behaviour of the constellation as a whole. A conceptual framework for analysing innovations as heterogeneous associations, thus, has to deal with a conceptual problem. It should be able to explain what makes all the heterogeneous entities similar in their capacity as mutually adaptable components, but it should do so without ignoring their heterogeneity. As a solution for this conceptual problem, I suggest a role-theoretical approach to socio-technical networks. At the core of sociological role theory, there is the distinction between person, position, and role. As I will argue, this distinction paves the way to an approach that allows to conceptualize innovations as networks of mutually adapted components and to take account of these components heterogeneity. The key to the solution is that it is the positions of the components of a socio-technical network that are subject to processes of mutual adaption and not (or only derivatively) the humans or the objects occupying them. Two other notions from sociological role theory prove to be most helpful for understanding socio-technical networks: The first is that positions exist only in relation to other positions thus constituting position fields, sets of related positions. The second is that positions usually allow their occupants to hold other positions as well. This leads to an understanding of socio-technical networks as structures that consist of different position fields with heterogeneous entities occupying the positions.

Technological Interdependencies And Its Epistemic Consequences In The Humanities

Thomas Franssen

CWTS, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Technological developments influence research practices by offering new analytical possibilities. Such technological developments often also come with particular constrains, such as the need for new types of expertise and a more complex experimental setup (e.g. see Laudel et al., 2014 on Bose-Einstein condensation). The technologization of research, in general, increases interdependencies and creates a need for collaboration (Shrum, Genuth & Chompalov, 2007). The particle colliders in the field of high energy physics is an extreme example of a technological development that increased interdependencies and resulted in a very extensive collaboration (Knorr-Cetina, 1999). In the humanities research is typically conducted without extensive technologization and thus is not influenced by technological interdependencies that would influence the analytical possibilities of individual researchers (It does typically depend on other research infrastructure such as libraries and archives). The rise of digital humanities across humanities disciplines changes this, as recent ethnographic research has shown (Kaltenbrunner, 2015; Antonijevic, 2015)

This paper draws on the work of Gläser and Laudel (Laudel & Gläser, 2014; Gläser & Laudel, 2015) and analyzes the epistemic consequences of digital technologies developed in the humanities in a comparative perspective. Drawing on an analysis of Dutch research projects in literary studies, linguistics and history in the period 2000-2018 this paper develops a typology of digital technologies and their epistemic consequences for research practices in the humanities.

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