Conference Agenda

RN29_09b: The Social Shaping of Research: Adequacy, Impact and Elites
Friday, 23/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Francisco Javier Salinas Lemus, University College London
Location: GM.325
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road


When “Adequacy” is Actually its Opposite: Reading Social Reality Against the Grain

Lorenzo Sabetta

Sapienza - University of Rome, Italy

A still widely accepted criterion of interpretations’ validity is considered to be that of adequacy: sociological interpretations must be attuned to and consistent with the subjectively intended meaning expressed by social actors, as these interpretations should be "reasonable and understandable" for the actors themselves. Even though the principle of adequacy has very seldom been criticized, it has never been expressly claimed that an opposite criterion could be viewed sometimes as more appropriate, i.e. that sociological interpretations have to be, in certain situations, diametrically at odds with the subjective meanings attached by social actors to their actions and statements.

The paper aims to explore three research macro-areas where sociological interpretations not only cannot meet the criterion of adequacy, but that also need to be in contrast with the first-order constructs involved, in order to provide reliable and persuasive descriptions, and even for establishing (and labeling) the very phenomenon under study:

(a) Study of the routine grounds of everyday activities;

(b) Study of hegemony, ideology, and the whole sphere of the Bourdieusian “symbolic”;

(c) Study of unintended consequences.

This paper contends that when sociologists have to deal with (a) unmarked, (b) self-deceived, and (c) unforeseen social actions (actions for which, by definition, social actors do not even have a label) the principle of adequacy cannot work. Instead, it can be claimed that researchers are forced to brush social reality «against the grain» (against reasons and intentions of people concerned), to borrow Benjamin’s expression. If subjectively intended meaning cannot directly furnish a proper validation, this last one becomes a matter of indirect evidence left inadvertently behind by social actors – they become rather "witnesses in spite of themselves".

Theoretical Foundations of Social Impact

Elisabeth Torras-Gómez1, Carmen Elboj2, Esther Oliver1, Julia Herrera1

1University of Barcelona, Spain; 2University of Zaragoza

The dominant discourse of social impact is trying to exclude the theoretical developments created by sociology and other social sciences. However, some counter discourses are being successful at demonstrating the contributions of social theories to the improvement of societies and their key role in the promotion of the social impact of all sciences. In this vein, the theoretical developments made by sociologist like Weber and Habermas are now being taken into account in the documents and publications about social impact. Furthermore, even the process of evaluation of science is increasingly following the insights about dialogue and consensus elaborated by Habermas and other social theorists. Besides, there are other contributions that have directly influenced social transformation, for example the Public Sociology (Burawoy) and real utopias (Erik Olin Wright).

In Spain, the socialist government has created this year 2019 an evaluation of the university professors based on their economic and social transference to society. Consequently, an increasing number of researchers and research groups from different sciences (including health, biology engineering, neuroscience,...), in order to undertake the analysis and the presentation of evidence of their social impact, are asking for help to social science researchers. Taking all the above into account, this paper follows a twofold aim: on the one hand, to collaborate with the social theory critics against the dominant discourse of evaluation of social impact and, on the other hand, to restore the role that social theory should have in the improvement of all sciences and society.

Socially Responsible Research and Social Impact Assessment of Scientific Organizations: a Case Study

Inês Almeida Martins

University of Coimbra, Portugal

The context of "reinvention of capitalism" (Boltanski & Chiapello, 1996) is permeated by configurations and relations of risk and social and economic inequality. This scenario is based on the interaction of state, market and society sectors, in the context of renegotiation and dilution of boundaries and multilevel governance forms, for instance (Ferreira, 2009). Thus, knowledge also transforms its modes of production, appropriation and valuation (Gibbons, 1999). Knowledge production is pressured to conduct itself by market logic as in the knowledge economy sphere (Jessop, 2008); nevertheless new forms emerge in order to integrate in society, through the dissemination, exchanges and promote the knowledge production focused in multidisciplinary and co-construction. Therefore, the production and diffusion of scientific knowledge can generate other outputs in society, which maybe evaluated in terms of their impact. The Social Impact Assessment (SIA) perspective prioritizes active and participatory models, with the implementation process itself as research action (Becker,2001, 2003) and pursuit for results practice for continuous improvement of the organization and its stakeholders (Becker, 2001: Nichols, 2009). This paper come up with Social Impact Assessment, focused on stakeholders, from a Socially Responsible Research perspective (Daedlow, et al., 2016), which takes into account the organic and complex nature of knowledge producing institutions and be possible to be observed in the ecosystem of results and values (Almeida, 2016). It aims to understand how nonprofit scientific organizations can appropriate evaluation logics and results monitoring that show their social value within a socially responsible science.

The Moral Elites: A Conceptual Approximation and Research Agenda

Anders Sevelsted

Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

The paper aims to set out a new research agenda on the 'moral elites' by developing the concept and sketching some methodological implications. I first define three generations of elite scholars (the 'founding fathers', American political sociologists of the 1950s, and 60s and current scholarship) in order to show how current sociological research on elites has focused on the 'power elite' while neglecting the historical and present moral influence of other types of elites on the institutions of society. Building on the research of the three generations, and adding insights from research on the 'axial age', I then flesh out the concept of the moral elites as those groups in society who 1) have disproportionate access to resources of universalist knowledge and 2) manage to articulate moral principles for society based on their claim to knowledge. I further illustrate this conceptualization by analyzing three societal groups that have historically contributed significantly to the moral elites, namely religious elites, professional elites, and political-ideological elites. Through a discussion with certain strands of institutionalism, I then present a theory of the process of articulation through which universalist knowledge is translated into societal principles and institutions. At the end of the paper, some methodological considerations on the operationalization of the concept and its use in Social Network Analysis are presented, based on my work on the early 20th century Danish moral elites.