Accepted Paper:

Comparing conventional excellence: moral and technical features of "good research"  


Nathan Charlier (University of Namur)

Paper short abstract:

My paper proposes to map the different ways to frame the notion of excellence in four institutions. It will compare how “good research” is valued in different settings, pointing out four conventions that convey distinct technologies and moral principles to govern research practices.

Paper long abstract:

During a stay at Lancaster University, I was struck to discover how the institutional branding relied on the rhetoric of excellence. Several flags scattered over the campus are displaying statements such as: "our physicists helped discover the Higgs boson particle", "Lancaster University is ranked among the top 10 universities in the UK", "our volcanologists made the first observation of a rare type of lava", etc. These quotes convey technologies such as rankings, but also moral and epistemological aspects regarding the role and status of scientific knowledge. This fostered my reflection regarding the fieldwork I made in different research institutions located in Belgium: while academic excellence is not at the core of their branding per se, it is indeed a key issue for many actors concerned with research governance.

My paper proposes to map the different ways to frame the notion of excellence in four institutions: two large biotech research centres and two universities in Flanders and Wallonia. It relies on 25 semi-structured interviews with tenured academics involved in their institution's research management. The paper will compare how "good research" is valued in different settings: what counts when one evaluates the "excellence" of a scientific production/career? To which technologies, indicators and to which "moral principles" are interviewees referring to when they discuss excellence? How do they engage in criticizing certain framings and praise others? Eligible for the rhetoric or comparative panel, my contribution will present four distinct institutional conventions that govern research practices and sorts the good scientist from the bad.

Panel T020
Governing Excellent Science