Hegemonies in Policy and Research Translation. Exploring Passages between Social Needs, Scientific Output, and Technologies
Location 133
Date and Start Time 01 September, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 2


  • Tommaso Ciarli (University of Sussex) email
  • Pierre-Benoit Joly (INRA / UPEM) email
  • Saurabh Arora (University of Sussex) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Saurabh Arora, Tommaso Ciarli

Short Abstract

Rates and directions of research and innovation are often poorly matched to 'social needs'. We aim to problematize and explore the passages from distributed social needs, through policy agendas, to the production of science, knowledge and technologies, which are unequally distributed across needs

Long Abstract

Scientific advance and social needs are unevenly matched, with forms of extant privilege often playing a big role in the setting of scientific and technological agendas. For instance, policy and research attention is biased towards diseases of the industrialised rich, and technological developments in agriculture privilege specific forms of productivity neglecting sustainability or local needs. Moreover, rhetorics on 'social needs' do not always address issues in science and innovation, reinforcing tendencies for scientific and technological progress to follow paths only partly driven by explicit policy agendas and social needs.

This session will problematize and explore different passages from distributed societal needs to the production of scientific outputs, knowledge, and technologies, and vice versa. We aim to explore these passages through multiple methodologies and trans- or inter-disciplinary studies. We welcome studies based on ethnographic work, policy process analysis, digital mapping, other data analysis, mixed methods, etc. We invite studies focussing on any field/sector, including, but not limited to, health, energy, housing, employment, and social inclusion.

Orienting questions include: how do social needs translate into public research outputs and (private) technological innovations? Why are particular social needs prioritised significantly more than others? Why are some needs absent in public science? How do these passages change across space and time? How are 'social needs' constructed, and represented in policy, and what role do (social) science and innovation play in their construction? What are the practical challenges in representing diverse social needs, even in a single setting, comprehensively and holistically?


This track is closed to new paper proposals.


"We put knowledge of what we know". Undone science and rice workers in Uruguay.

Author: Santiago Alzugaray (Universidad de la República, Uruguay)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discuses evidence coming from the ethnography of a case of knowledge construction carried out by a university research team and rice workers. The process constitutes an isolated example of research oriented to satisfy the needs of the most deprived pole in the existing social relations.

Long Abstract

The paper presents some discussions coming from an ethnographic approach of a process of knowledge construction, carried out by a university research team and rice workers. The research process emerged from the workers' demand for greater knowledge about their health situation associated with their labour (pesticides exposure, physical loads, weather exposure), and constitutes an isolated example of scientific research oriented to satisfy the needs of the most deprived pole in the existing social relations in the field (getting undone science done).

An emphasis on power relations that shape the research agenda, and the individual and collective strategies in respect of those is made. Also, in the aspects that led to the process, in the interactions of knowledge that were produced in the process, and in the eventual solution to the problems identified by the workers. The approach, the questions to answer, and the analysis is in the framework of anthropology of science.

As a social activity, the construction of knowledge does not follow natural paths. The background stories of individuals and groups, their political and philosophical ideas, power relations and strategies (individual and collective), the dialogue with different kinds of knowledge, set frameworks that define those paths. The analysis presented in the paper seeks dialogue with those ideas in order to arrive at conclusions that will allow, ultimately, to think in a production of knowledge that includes the interests and problems of the most disadvantaged social sectors.

International Research, Social Needs and Policy Agendas: a Difficult Match?

Author: Montserrat Alom Bartroli (University Paris V)  email

Short Abstract

We examine the relevance of SSH-related topics studied by Northern and Southern researchers in collaborative projects and whether they are part of national policy agendas, producing a typology that uncovers power relationships between international research, policy agendas and social needs.

Long Abstract

International scientific co-operation involving Southern countries was originally promoted for the most part within the framework of public development aid, which had established a set of topics to be examined for each region. Although the situation has considerably evolved since then, mainly because of the emergence of national research funds and the growth of scientific communities worldwide, Western-based research-funding agencies ("the North", formerly known as "the centre" in a centre-periphery conception) are still holding a hegemonic position.

While agencies select broad topics to work on, mainly based on a strategic analysis of what should be the international agenda, individual participants choose their topics guided by different considerations related to organisational, professional, scientific and relational factors. In order to understand these differentiated positions, we interviewed 50 researchers from Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia having participated in international collaborative projects in social sciences and humanities funded by three North-based agencies (European Commission, IFCU and IDRC).

The interviews focus on how relevant are the topics decided upon and whether they are congruent with any national policy agenda or not. Our study uncovers power relationships between research conducted within an international scientific framework, policy agendas and social needs, producing a typology of patterns of relationships among the different actors involved and revealing how these are constructed over time. It shows that even when researchers study issues recognised as social needs by national States, the actual patterns of collaborations, driven by a wide range of factors, make it quite a difficult match.

Towards a multifaceted understanding of social needs: policy and projects

Author: Barbara Grimpe (Alpen-Adria-Universität )  email

Short Abstract

The European Commission tackles social needs such as improvements in healthcare or the protection of the environment through funding research and innovation projects. However, the related translation processes are culturally complex. I will show in which ways, and problematise the policy discourse.

Long Abstract

For many years the European Commission (EC) has tackled various social needs or 'grand societal challenges', such as improvements in healthcare or the protection of the environment, through funding research and innovation projects in related areas. I will unpack the governance structures at both programme and project level, analyse their interplay, and consequently provide a multifaceted understanding of social needs that are as much shaped by big ideas as by numerous small issues emerging locally. To put it differently, the paper argues that programme and project level are linked to one another through processes of translation that are culturally complex. Relevant features will be exemplified with a particular EC funding programme focusing on the development of Information and Communication Technologies. In this case the funder's rhetoric of social needs has been entangled with the discourse of the information society in a rather unfortunate way. Also, the mix of epistemic, technical and national cultures at the project level entails different understandings of what 'needs' to be done ('socially' and otherwise). These and other findings will be discussed based on a mixed-methods approach (document and discourse analysis, and semi-structured interviews). I will conclude by questioning the existing policy discourse, and by problematising the ways in which it is inscribed into concrete funding programmes.

Revealing research prioritization against societal "needs" by means of semantic analysis

Authors: Ismael Rafols (Universitat Politècnica de València)  email
Matthew Wallace (INGENIO (CSIC-UPV))  email
Elisabeth de Turckheim (HCERES)  email

Short Abstract

We present exploratory studies on research prioritization in the cases of avian flu and obesity. Research priorities are revealed by semantic analysis on abstracts and keywords from publications and project data.

Long Abstract

Although it is often argued that research priorities are not well aligned with societal needs (Sarewitz and Pielke, 2007), the actual distribution of resources across competing research topics is often unclear or contested. In this presentation, we will introduce methods to quantitatively estimate the relative investment across competing research options, explore mechanisms that may shape investments and contrast priorities with societal needs.

First, in the case of obesity, we analyse question records in the EU parliaments as an instance of social demand (as "captured" by decision makers). We use topic modelling to reconstruct thematic structures in both parliamentary data and publications. We compare them with publication maps to explore (mis)alignments between societal concerns and scientific outputs. We find that research is more concerned about the biomedical mechanisms leading to obesity, whereas political questions focus on the socio-economic mechanisms that cause obesity.

Second, we analyse priorities in avian flu with project and publication data. We investigate how priorities are shaped by three institutional contexts: (i) pharmaceutical industry, (ii) publishing and public research funding pressures, and (iii) the mandates of international and national science-based policy or public health organizations. These results are significant not only for informing resource allocation, but also to take a broad perspective of research governance that explicitly takes into account underlying incentive structures when defining priorities.

Contrasting the evolution of rice research and agricultural priorities

Authors: Tommaso Ciarli (University of Sussex)  email
Ismael Rafols (Universitat Politècnica de València)  email

Short Abstract

We study how the focus of research on rice has evolved across time and space using publication data. We contrast time and country focus with their achievements and use of inputs. We discuss the misalignment between research portfolios and apparent priorities for the main rice producers.

Long Abstract

We focus on rice, a crop which feeds a huge number of people around the world, particularly in low and middle income countries, and, as a symbol of the green revolution, is also a controversial technology. Our aim is to map how research efforts change through time and space, and how this is related to specific priorities, events, and cultures. We address questions such as: what are the main research topics in rice research? How have they evolved over time? How has this evolution different by country? How are countries portfolios of rice research aligned with the main priorities in terms of nutrition, rice consumption, trade, and the use of inputs? Looking at the political economy of rice research, we investigate the main determinants that have influenced the direction of rice research in the countries with the highest concentration of production of rice and publications on rice.

The analysis is based on a large corpus of publications on rice from the CABI repository of publications. Based on similarity, we cluster publications into different topic. We show how the research portfolio has changed through time and across the main countries publishing on rice technologies. The analysis provides a good picture of the political economy of rice research, which we contrast with data and narratives of research priorities.

The (f)utility of knowledge: a take on Chagas disease research

Authors: Pablo Kreimer (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET))  email
Luciano Levin (CCTS, UM; UNLPam, D-TEC)  email
Hugo Ferpozzi (Centre for Science, Technology and Society)  email

Short Abstract

We map international knowledge production on Chagas disease to understand how research is shaping (or coproducing) it and defining possible ways to address the social problem. We show how research on Chagas produces a “universal/purified” scientific problem while disregards the real use of knowledge.

Long Abstract

Chagas disease affects over ten million individuals in Latin America and a growing figure in developed countries (OMS 2012). While it has been classified as a "neglected tropical disease" lacking of safe treatment, Chagas biomedical research captures substantial funding from both developing and developed regions. Here we map knowledge production from various sources including 40,000 papers from WoS and SCIELO, data of European projects and interviews with their leaders in order to understand how scientific knowledge is shaping (or co-producing) the disease and therefore defining specific modes of addressing the problem.

Scientific knowledge has played a crucial role in defining Chagas both as a public and as a scientific problem. From the 70's on, molecular biology has become the main producer of knowledge on the disease through the study of its etiological agent (Trypanosoma cruzi) in a context of increasing support from global funding agencies. While holding a strong rhetoric of addressing a social issue, Chagas research represents a clear case of Applicable Knowledge Not-Applied: it meets international standards of excellence and visibility, but fails to address the social needs it was supposed to attend (Kreimer & Zabala 2007).

Using a framework that examines international scientific networks, funding structures, scientific production and their effects on local research agendas, we expand the evidence base gathering data that has not been, so far, analysed jointly. We aim to show the themes, sub-disciplines, approaches, and networks that dominate Chagas research and help in co-producing the disease as a "universal" (or "purified") scientific problem.

Explaining variation in medical innovation: The case of vaccines, and the HIV AIDS effort

Author: Ohid Yaqub (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

This paper highlights two variables that I argue are important in explaining patterns of innovation seen in vaccines and perhaps in other parts of medicine too.

Long Abstract

This paper highlights two variables that I argue are important in explaining patterns of innovation seen in vaccines and perhaps in other parts of medicine too. They are: firstly, the extent to which it is safe to experiment on humans; and secondly, whether good animal models can be identified and used, with the latter especially important if there are strong constraints on experimenting with humans. To consider the argument, the paper discusses the case of vaccines, where the political economy of R&D appears to explain only part of the observed variation. I focus on HIV vaccine development and find that, together, these two variables not only make up a large part of how I would characterize 'difficulty' in the HIV R&D process, but they also seem to go a long way towards explaining why 31 other diseases have - or have not - had vaccines developed for them. In characterizing these variables, I discuss what might happen if we choose to persist in difficult R&D domains, finding that development may be forced into trajectories that yield lower-quality products. Counter-intuitively, such lower-quality products are typically costlier because they are harder to pass through clinical trials. Implications for theory and policy are discussed, chief of which are that the technical difficulty of R&D is not fixed and can be shifted by policy, and that difficult R&D trajectories need not be pursued when alternative trajectories exist (or can be developed).

In the Name of "Social": A Discursive History of China's Attempt to Advance/Abolish the Traditional Chinese Medicine

Author: Chadwick Wang (Tsinghua University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the discursive structure and the essential meaning of “social needs” in relevant policy on attempt to advance the innovation of traditional Chinese medicine.

Long Abstract

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a long history of curing people on this ancient land, using an alternative system of knowledge and practice. After the introduction of western medicine on a large scale in Ching dynasty however, the TCM was frequently attempted to be abolished by the "progressive people" due to its "pseudo-science" nature. The TCM doctors and relevant social groups at the same time, tried so hard to advance or at lease sustain their career, by arguing the "social needs" must be satisfied. But what is the "social" in this context is not only unclear, but also evolving though times. This paper accordingly, focuses specifically the "social needs" policy discourses in all levels since 1970s, to explore the justification, legitimacy construction as well as the self-fulfilling sense-making of the innovation, resource distribution, and the policy evaluation. A "discourse network analysis" (Leifeld, 2010, 2013) is employed to demonstrate the discursive structure and help to understand the essential meaning of "social needs", while special attention is also paid on the "big historical event" like curing of malaria (Tu Youyou's case) and SARS by TCM. It is argued the "social" in China's context, is a combination of professionalism and nationalism, and the both sides supporting or opposing TCM are actually seeking to draw the boundaries (Gieryn, 1983, 1995, 1999), via this powerful discourse (Foucault, 1972, Butler, 1993), for their own sake.

The moments of convergence in Science and Technology projects as an answer to social needs

Authors: Luísa Veloso (ISCTE - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa)  email
Paula Rocha (Universidade de Aveiro)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper it is proposed to discuss some of the main results of a research project on science and industry relations, where the focus privileged was on the S&T projects based on public policy definition of social needs that allow the S&T projects to be approved and have public funding.

Long Abstract

In this paper it is proposed to discuss some of the main results of a research project on science and industry relations, where the focus privileged was on the S&T projects and its network configuration based on public policy definition of social needs that allow the S&T projects to be developed, but, first of all, to be approved and have public funding. Seven S&T projects were analysed, two coordinated and developed by university research centers and five coordinated by companies, but all of them are characterized by having an institutional net of partners from academia and from industry, although quite different in its configurations and trajectories. The moments of convergence are crucial to understand who, why and how institutions and people meet on a specific moments of time and what kind of social needs are supposed to answer. S&T projects revealed also to be a crucial framework to discuss the social processes of knowledge and technology creation, transfer and sharing and to what extend the rules of funding (funding agency driven) influence the constitution of partnerships and networks. The research was conducted based on an ethnographic approach in two companies, including direct observation, interviews and document's analysis.

The policy instruments of hegemonic rule

Author: Rigas Arvanitis (Institut de recherche pour le développement)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the funding and other instruments and the way they define distance between core and peripheries, and how the curent literature frames these debates.

Long Abstract

Losego and Arvanitis (2008) have proposed that non-hegemonic countries can be defined by the fact they have little opportunity to modify the worldwide research agenda. This presentation would like to examine the instruments of hegemony, beyond financial power. I suggest that, although the main instrument is still financial, given the complexity of the new international environment, funding becomes both an instrument and a negotiation arena. Additionally, other instruments (databases, language policy, publication policies, instrumentation) seem to guarantee the distance between core and periphery. I re-examine also what has been named 'southern theory' (Connell) and build on the work of some 'younger' contributors to this particular subject (W. Keim, P. Kreimer, F. Beigel, S. Hanafi, L. Cabane, J. Tantchou) rather than the 'post-colonial' (Alatas, Houtoundji, Appadurai). In this way, we assist to the recent formation of a new way in thinking about future evolution of globalized science. This particular strand is not entirely born out from STS field and stresses new avenues for research that had been marginalized but become very central in international debates about research. Central to these debates is the dilemma between internationalization vs. relevance.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.