(F03)
Scientists - agents under construction
Location Welcome Centre Lecture Theatre 4
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 4

Convenors

  • Sarah Schönbauer (Technical University of Munich) email
  • Rosalind Attenborough (University of Edinburgh) email

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Short abstract

As ways of being a scientist have changed vastly across past centuries, so have scientists' identities. We therefore invite critical explorations of the forms and formats that identity might take in modern research environments and reflections upon the scientist as an agent under construction.

Long abstract

Ways of being a scientist have changed across past centuries. Today's scientists form identities at a meeting point of overlapping yet divergent personae, such as: the traditional academic and the entrepreneur; the basic and the applied scientist; the independent genius and the team worker; the closed and the "open" scientist, etc. Additionally, societal transformations (e.g. latent individualization processes) and recent political events (e.g. Brexit, the increase in right-wing tendencies) expose the role of scientists and knowledge production processes to tensions and uncertainties. Hence, understanding how scientists build and tinker an identity through the frictions and uncertainties of today's demands and transformations is a core concern of our times.

Many transitions of the academe have been researched extensively. Yet there is a scarcity of contemporary research focusing explicitly and critically upon the identity of the scientist - not only as a constructor of knowledge but also as agent under construction. We invite papers that empirically explore and reflect on the forms and formats that identity might take in modern research environments and ask:

- How do researchers form identities and what are the practices, norms and values that these are based upon? And what role does identity play for researchers, their communities, their institutions?

- How are researchers negotiating and making sense of their identities, and how are they thereby accommodating to or resisting the conditions of research environments?

We aim to collect a diverse set of contributions related to these and related questions that critically unpack scientific identities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Being lucky and making choices: making sense of mobility

Author: Sarah Davies (University of Copenhagen) email
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Short abstract

International mobility is increasingly part of scientific careers. In this paper I ask: how do scientists make sense of, and narrate, their mobility experiences? I find diversity in sense-making, and discuss in particular concepts of 'luck' and 'choosing'.

Long abstract

International mobility is increasingly part of scientific careers, part and parcel of heightened competition for permanent posts and the inevitability, for many scientists, of multiple short term contracts. Relatively little is known about experiences of such mobility, however, or about how it affects the construction of scientific identities. In this paper I explore these issues by asking: how do scientists make sense of, and narrate, their mobility experiences?

My arguments are based on an interview study with 32 natural scientists at different stages of their careers, based in Denmark but from across the world, who had experienced living and working in a different country to that where they had been trained. An early finding was the diversity in sense-making concerning their experiences. Their narratives were not the same: they cited diverse rationales, affects, and imaginations concerning international mobility, and they did not all fit the pattern of being junior scientists looking for a tenured post. Some were angry about their mobility; others saw it as a benefit of their work. Despite practical similarities in these scientists' experiences, each account can be viewed as sitting at the centre of a web of narratives and sense-making devices, and as making use of specific aspects of these resources. In this paper I discuss in particular concepts of 'luck' and 'choosing' and the ways in which these are used as tools to narrate scientific careers, and thereby perform scientific identities.

Finding a place in science: the role of institutional configurations in the formation of scientific identity

Authors: Niki Vermeulen (University of Edinburgh) email
Andrea Nunez Casal (Goldsmiths, University of London) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores the importance of place and institutional culture for the identity of scientists, through the merger of two long-standing research institutes into a new bespoke building. Based on the analysis of the moving process, we show the entanglement of place and identity in science.

Long abstract

Following the unique merger of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and the Cancer UK London Research Institute (LRI) into one single collaborative institute, we will analyse how the physical moving process went hand-in-hand with transformations in identity. Researchers moved from an institute with a history and its own research culture, into a new and empty space full of expectations as well as insecurities. What did this mean for their sense of belonging and how did they (re-)shape their identity along the way? As place and identity are co-produced, researchers come to identify with their workplace, and they mutually shape one another creating 'environmental biographies'. Based on document analysis, interviews and ethnographic observations, we will explore how the past was disposed in bins, how working lives were packed in boxes, and how memorabilia were used to bridge between the old and the new place. We found that especially zebra fish and big machines such as electron microscopes are difficult to move, but that researchers are gradually carving out a space for themselves in new relations to others, while also shaping the identity of the new Francis Crick institute.

At least a little bit of stability. How life scientists do identity work in today´s academia

Author: Sarah Schönbauer (Technical University of Munich) email
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Short abstract

Scientists in today´s life sciences are in need of conforming to the demands for a successful career while trying to create belonging to their profession, their workplace or to other scientists. Hence, I explore how scientists act on and build their identity in between conformity and resistance.

Long abstract

In today´s universities, scientists need to live up to pressing requirements, such as moving internationally, continuous publishing in high-ranked scientific journals and successfully acquiring third-party funded projects. In line with this, they predominantly have to focus on performance and output while at the same time working in temporary conditions that are mostly devoid of future possibilities. Hence, scientists have to conform to the demands for living and working in today´s academia. At the same time, they aim for (temporary) stability in their careers, in their local embedding in place and time and in their relationships with other scientists.

Based on ethnographic work and interviews with life scientists in globally recognized research departments, I explore how scientists do identity work as individuals and as collectives and how they build and negotiate their lives against the need for stability. In so doing, I take the life sciences as model organism for conceptualizing identity work. I frame this work along the tension of having to conform to the normative demands for a successful career in science while aiming to create attachment and belonging to ones profession, ones workplace or other scientists.

Based on empirical insights, I will critically reflect on what it means to be a scientist today. I will also engage with how we can re-think individual and collective identities in ways that are less insecure and conforming. Thereby, I will draw attention to the situatedness and multiplicity of identities at work to open up ways for alternative ways of being a scientist.

"Within the frames that were laid out": 'independent' doctoral research in the projectified humanities

Author: Alexandra Supper (Maastricht University) email
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Short abstract

Projectification puts tension on the conception of doctoral research in the humanities as a solitary transition from student to researcher. By analysing the Dutch 'Vidi' funding scheme, I trace tensions in the discourse of academic identity and 'independence' in collaborative research projects.

Long abstract

The process of doctoral work can be understood as one of identity-construction; more than just an extended study of a particular topic, it also marks a gradual transition from feeling like a student to feeling like an academic. In higher education research, this transition is understood to play out differently in different academic fields; whereas natural science research is regarded as being more communal, doctoral researchers in the humanities are usually expected to develop their topics (and concomitant identity) in isolation and on their own (e.g. Parry, 2007).

However, the increasing reliance on collaborative research projects - 'projectification' - in the humanities puts strain on the conception of doctoral research as a solitary affair. In this presentation, I will explore this tension in relation to one specific funding scheme: the 'Vidi' of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). This scheme is particularly relevant because of its paradoxical nature: conceived as an 'individual' grant for mid-career academics, successful applicants are cast in the role of principal investigator in a collaborative project, usually including one or two doctoral researchers, who are expected to deliver dissertations which demonstrate their ability to conduct research independently. I will explore traces of this tension, and associated discourses of academic identity and 'independence', through an analysis of the funding instrument and doctoral regulations of Dutch universities, as well as of selected dissertations in the disciplines of history and philosophy, written in the context of Vidi projects funded between 2006 and 2010.

Evidence for excellence? How ERC reviewers attribute (non-)excellence to researchers

Authors: Kay Felder (Technical University of Munich) email
Ruth Müller (Technical University of Munich) email
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Short abstract

We trace how reviewers for the ERC attribute excellence to researchers when they assess CVs and projects. By understanding peer-reviews as processes that construct rather than apply notions of quality, we investigate who comes to count as an excellent scientist as well as a good reviewer today.

Long abstract

The European Research Council (ERC) is one of the most prestigious funding organizations in Europe. Obtaining an ERC grant has become a symbol of academic excellence that can have great significance for the career development of researchers. The ERC peer review is further often seen as a new 'gold standard' of organizing review processes and as a potential blueprint for (re-)organizing reviews in other funding bodies. At the same time, the ERC is also struggling with traditional issues inherent to peer-review, such as gender and nationality bias.

Against this background, we explore how peer reviewers for ERC starting and consolidator grants make sense of and navigate the peer review processes of the ERC. Based on qualitative interviews with reviewers, we trace how they attribute excellence or non-excellence to specific researchers, their proposals and their academic CVs. Our approach is grounded in an understanding of peer reviews as social processes that construct rather than apply notions of excellence and in which reviewers need to negotiate multiple, possibly contradicting understandings of worth individually and in the complex social space of the peer review panel. Peer review thus becomes an arena in which their own identities as reviewers and those of the applicants are continuously under construction. What counts as an excellent CV or project is intimately entangled with questions of what counts as good peer reviewing and how it can be performed, and with larger questions concerned with the politics and ethics of competitive research funding.

Filling in the gaps. The politics of interpreting academic CVs in evaluative situations

Authors: Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner (Leiden University) email
Sarah de Rijcke (Leiden University) email
Ruth Müller (Technical University of Munich) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on a set of 25 interviews with applicants and referees in a prestigious German fellowship program, this paper presents an analysis of how researchers understand, cultivate and negotiate the interpretive conventions that underpin the assessment of academic CVs in evaluative situations.

Long abstract

Academic CVs play an important but understudied role in many kinds of academic evaluation processes, ranging from peer review for grant and fellowship programs to institutional appointment procedures. The globalization of academic labor markets and the increasing dependence of scientists on grants and other forms of external funding would even suggest that the significance of CVs as an object of evaluation is increasing. The aim of this paper is to analyze how researchers cultivate, understand and negotiate the interpretive conventions that underpin the assessment of CVs in evaluative situations. CVs are often seen as very matter-of-factly documents (in contrast, for example, to literary biographies of scientists). We argue, however, that the elliptic lists of achievements and career steps presented in academic CVs do not speak for themselves, but instead require significant interpretive effort. A key aspect of this normally invisible interpretive work is contextualization. Thus, when assessing CVs, researchers qualify achievements (or lack thereof) by viewing them against selectively mobilized interpretive backgrounds, such as disciplinary research cultures, biographical factors, or the broader infrastructural conditions of particular national science systems. In this proactive interpretive process, researchers establish, reproduce or contest what counts as legitimate ways of presenting and reading CVs for assessment purposes, and thus engage in a crucial form of knowledge politics. Empirically, our analysis draws on a set of 25 interviews with applicants and referees in a prestigious institutional fellowship program in Germany.

Impacted or impactful? The research impact agenda as a challenge to academic identities

Author: Justyna Bandola-Gill (University of Edinburgh) email
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Short abstract

The so-called research impact agenda has brought about a variety of cultural and institutional changes to the UK academic life. This paper will explore how the increasing focus on the relevance of research has impacted on academic identities and understandings of what constitutes 'academic' work.

Long abstract

The recent decades brought about a series of changes to the ways in which academic research is being funded and evaluated in the UK. One such change is a so-called impact agenda and - more broadly - a move towards incentivising engagement between academic and non-academic audiences. These changes have posed a significant challenge to traditional academic values, such as autonomy, impartiality or objectivity, as the academics are increasingly expected to get directly involved in political processes. This paper is based on the insights from a PhD project exploring knowledge exchange between academics and policymakers in genomics and public health. In this paper, I will discuss the ways in which the expectation to achieve 'research impact' has shaped academics' perceptions of what constitutes and legitimises academic practices. Furthermore, I will discuss how the perception of changing boundaries between science and policy/politics has posed a significant challenge to academic identities. I will argue that in order to adapt to this changing environment, academics employed a variety of mediating strategies, aimed at easing the challenge posed to their identities, including: othering, joining up and non-conforming. These strategies were shaped by multiple factors, such as the perception of the science-policy boundary, the perceived roles of science in policymaking and the view on the disciplinary 'duties' of academics.

Meeting the diversified demands for knowledge: reconciling modernist and reflexive values for knowledge production

Authors: Lisa Verwoerd (Athena Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) email
Eva-Maria Kunseler (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) email
Barbara Regeer (Athena Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) email
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Short abstract

Disussing quality principles for knowledge production helps scientists to open up institutionalized modernist routines to the values of reflexive knowledge production. This supports scientists to reconcile conflicting demands of society on their role and on knowledge for complex societal problems.

Long abstract

Societal developments and the increased complexity of contemporary societal problems have diversified the roles scientists play in public debates. Scholars argue for a move towards a more reflexive research tradition where scientists function as change agents to better accommodate the complexity of societal issues. Epistemological norms and values for this tradition, however, seemingly conflict with that of the more dominant modernist tradition, where scientists fill the role of scientific expert. The reflexive tradition calls for participatory and deliberative approaches to co-create socially robust knowledge. Whereas the modernist tradition values objective fact-based knowledge and calls for distant and independent expert-driven approaches. How do researchers fulfil the often institutionalized demands for the modernist tradition of knowledge production, whilst meeting the societal demands for a more open and reflexive knowledge production process?

In context of a public knowledge organisation we empirically studied how researchers navigate and balance the seemingly conflicting demands of both research traditions and their roles. Results show researchers are inclined to return to the better-known modernist tradition and emphasize their role as scientific expert when the perceived tension between both traditions is high. We suggest a set of quality principles as heuristic to support researchers in reconciling the values of both traditions. Our study reveals how discussing these quality principles help in explicating the assumptions underneath both research traditions and trigger the opening up of institutionalized modernist routines to the values of the reflexive tradition, allowing scientists to meet the diversified demands for knowledge on complex societal problems.

Meeting between the scientist and the public: RRI as a challenging transformation of scientists' identity

Authors: Andreas Röß (Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI) email
Philine Warnke (Fraunhofer Institute of Systems and Innovation Research ISI) email
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Short abstract

This paper aims to reflect the results of various workshops, which we carried out within a RRI project. Following Foucault, we read the RRI policy as a new form of governing the scientist. Based on empirical workshop results we illustrate the ambivalent outcomes of this subjectivation strategy.

Long abstract

The EU-policy 'Responsible Research and Innovation' (RRI) aims at the responsibilisation of research and innovation processes by opening it up to societal actors. RRI therefore is regarded as part of the broader participatory turn in (science) governance. While the majority of the RRI discussions focus on the different meanings and principles of responsibility in research and innovation and how to implement it, here we want to focus on the transformation of the scientist itself. Based on findings, which were gathered through the JERRI project, we discuss how the expectations, the tasks and the self-perception of the scientist/expert is now under new construction. Being a responsible scientist requires new abilities (e.g. communication with the public), new dispositions (e.g. proactively anticipating risks), and new criteria of what is considered as good, responsible research. Therefore, we interpret the RRI policy as a new form of governing the scientist in the sense of Foucault. Furthermore, we argue with Foucault, that the RRI policy fits widely with what can be called 'neoliberal governance'. Nevertheless, the responsibility term of RRI is very vague and leaves opportunities for alternative ways of being a responsible scientist. Overall, we want to point towards the ambivalent subjectivation of scientists through RRI.

The open science "revolution": changing policy, practice - and people?

Author: Rosalind Attenborough (University of Edinburgh) email
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Short abstract

Scientists around the world are encountering a growing moral-epistemic imperative to be "open". This paper asks whether the era of "open science" is transforming not only policy and practice, but also people: are scientists constructing and internalising openness as an epistemic virtue?

Long abstract

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, scientists and other researchers around the world have encountered a growing moral-epistemic imperative to be "open" in their work. Open access publishing has now become a requirement in many funding regimes, as has open data: the online archiving of primary data underlying a finding. Many more practices - including open peer review and open notebook science - remain outside the mainstream, but promise a more radical open science "revolution".

In the midst of these transformations to policies and practices in science, my paper's attention falls on the people - scientists - whose professional and epistemic worlds may be "revolutionised" by openness. Some of these scientists are activists and entrepreneurs who are leading the "revolution"; many form an ambivalent mainstream, navigating "open" regulations around their own epistemic and professional priorities; many define and enact their own unacknowledged and unmeasured forms of "openness".

This paper is based on my in-progress PhD data collection, including semi-structured interviews with (biological) scientists, open science advocates, and policymakers; and policy document analysis. I will explore the diverse meanings and practices of scientific openness that scientists have constructed before, within, and in tension with "open" advocacy and policy agendas, and I will ask: are scientists constructing and internalising openness as an epistemic virtue? If so, what does this openness look like? And is the era of "open science" producing new kinds of epistemic subjects - scientists whose professional and epistemic identities are fundamentally shaped by a need for openness?

The politics of what humanists do: digital humanities as an epistemic regime

Author: Thomas Franssen (Leiden University) email
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Short abstract

Digital humanities research has attracted considerable attention and large amounts of funding from funding bodies in recent years. This paper explores digital humanities as an epistemic regime through which governance actors aim to modernize the humanities, its practices and its scholars.

Long abstract

In the past 25 years, key research governance actors in the Netherlands, including the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the country's main research funding body (NWO), have invested considerable resources in the development of digital research infrastructures for the humanities. Beyond the building of digital research infrastructures, related changes in funding arrangements including increasing governmental priority-setting to support digital humanities research may potentially transform the humanities as a whole. As a scholarly domain that is seen by governance actors to have been 'in crisis' for decades, adopting digital humanities offer a chance of a digital revolution for those aiming to modernize the humanities.

This paper explores the form in which digital humanities is currently being mainstreamed and argues that rather than as a discipline governance actors have developed digital humanities as an infrastructure. This paper explores digital humanities as an epistemic regime that builds on different regimes of worth that have informed science policy in the Netherlands since the 1980s. In times of increasing governmental involvement in what forms of scientific inquiry are funded, the question what governmental actors consider good, valuable or useful humanities research is of crucial importance to understand how humanistic scholarly practices are shaped by research governance.

Identity formation and transformation in transdisciplinary scholarship: the case of Technology Assessment

Authors: Anja Bauer (Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt) email
Karen Kastenhofer (Austrian Academy of Sciences) email
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Short abstract

We discuss the identity construction and transformation among Technology Assessment practitioners. Two questions are characteristically at stake in the construction of a 'TA identity', first the role of the original disciplinary identity and second the identity as a scientist or researcher as such.

Long abstract

Technology Assessment is a paradigmatic case for the multifarious and at times ambiguous processes of identity formation and transformation of researchers in inter- and transdisciplinary settings. TA combines the natural, technical and social sciences and follows the dual mission of scientific analysis and policy advice. Yet despite this diversity Technology Assessment also constitutes a genuine community, reflected in dedicated conferences and publications.

Building on interviews with 20 practitioners at the Austrian Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA), we ask whether and how a genuine TA identity is formed and constituted and which mechanisms of identity construction and transformation are at play. Our analysis illustrates that a 'TA identity' is developed as part of a second or sometimes even third academic socialisation, following quite distinct patterns and outcomes. Two questions are characteristically at stake in the construction of a 'TA identity': First, ITA practitioners place their disciplinary identity and respective belongings differently in relation to their role as TA practitioners; some remain strongly affiliated with their original discipline, some transform to interdisciplinary TA experts and others again feel lost in between and belonging nowhere. Secondly, the presumed position on a spectrum between research and policy advice is constitutive for the identity of ITA practitioners. ITA practitioners think of themselves, as well as others, as being more scientifically inclined, more oriented towards advisory activities or balancing both aspects. Concluding, we discuss the contrary dynamics and mechanisms of joint community building and individual demarcation processes that accompany identity work within the same institutional boundaries.

Transdisciplinary subjectivation. Negotiating scientific identities, skills, and normativities in the arena of sustainable energy transformations

Author: Mirko Suhari (Zeppelin University) email
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Short abstract

In the realm of energy transitions knowledge production have increasingly opened up towards transdisciplinary stakeholder participation, life-world problems, and the pluralization of expertise. The presentations explores framings and frictions of emerging subject positions.

Long abstract

Since sustainable transformations of energy systems have gained much attention in political as well as in public spheres, practices of knowledge production have increasingly opened up towards transdisciplinary modes of stakeholder participation, life-world problem solving, and the pluralization of expertise. One of the main challenges faced by scientists working within this emerging research culture leads to the multireferential expectations articulated by heterogeneous social worlds who are engaged in sustainable transformations. Thus, I will argue that new forms of scientific subjectivities are shaped by the interplay between rising controversies regarding the diffusion of renewable energy technologies, traditional academic value orders, and stakeholders` demands for usable knowledge.

Based on interviews and policy documents, the presentation explores tensions between the discursive framings of transdisciplinary subject positions and the fragmented adaptations, oppositions, and frictions of scientists working in transdisciplinary energy projects. Researchers are situated in-between the messy spheres of political power, ethical valuation, and scientific quality criteria and not least their very own emotions, values, and competencies. It is then shown that transdisciplinary identities, skills, and normativities are negotiated in relation to different social worlds from academia, civil society, economy, and the state. On this premise, it is argued that various dynamics of boundary work are at play that reshape the role of science in society and thus diversify the possibilities of scientific engagement for the energy transition.

Beyond cosmopolitans and locals: international research collaboration and academic identity formation

Authors: Anna Kosmützky (Leibniz Universität Hannover ) email
Romy Wöhlert (University of Leipzig) email
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Short abstract

International research collaboration has become a regular practice throughout disciplines since the 1970s. In our paper, we ask in what ways international research collaborations contribute to academic identity formation and analyze facets of international academic identities.

Long abstract

As described in the panel's abstract, the ways of being a scientist have changed. One salient aspect of change is international research collaboration, which has become a regular practice throughout disciplines since the 1970s. In our paper, we conceptualize ithe ways contemporary international research collaborations affect academic identity formation and analyze facets of international academic identities.

We argue based on a constructivist and communitarian concept of identity (Giddens, Hall) that it is an interactive process between individuals and their significant communities. Academic identities are embedded in and emerge from the scholar's professional (and personal) history and socialization, and are shaped by the beliefs, practices, and values of their significant disciplinary, institutional, professional, and local/national communities and contexts (Clark, 1987; Välimaa, 1998; Henkel, 2005).

Thus, whereas traditional considerations (e.g., Gouldner, 1957) have described international orientations of academics as unitary and as a dichotomy of cosmopolitans vs. locals, we conceptualize them as pluralistic and fluid. Consequently, it is also insufficient to primarily define collaboration as international due to different national institutional affiliations. Instead, it is necessary to distinguish multiple facets of international academic identities.

Clark, B. R. (1987). The Academic Profession: National, Disciplinary, and Institutional Settings. Univ of California Press.

Gouldner, A. W. (1957). Cosmopolitans and Locals: Towards an Analysis of Latent Social Roles I. Administrative Science Quarterly, 2(3), 281-306.

Henkel, M. (2005). Academic Identity and Autonomy in a Changing Policy Environment. Higher Education, 49(1-2), 155-176.

Välimaa, J. (1998). Culture and Identity in Higher Education Research. Higher Education, 36(2), 119-138.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.