The Sociology of Scientific Work

The Sociology of Scientific Work

The Fundamental Relationship between Science and Society

PRIME Series on Research and Innovation Policy in Europe

Dominique Vinck

More than ever before, science and technology play a significant role in modern society as evidenced by the development of nanotechnologies and the controversies surrounding GMOs and climate change. This book comprehensively explores the flourishing field of science and technology studies and examines its creation, development and interaction with contemporary society.

Chapter 4: The Sciences as an Organisation

Dominique Vinck

Subjects: innovation and technology, innovation policy


There is a surprising paradox in this idea. Sociologists of the sciences have focused much on the institution and norms governing behaviour in science. And yet these are not concerns prevalent in the day-to-day discussions of scientists. However, there is a constant concern about organisation, felt by both scientists and politicians. Scientists wonder whether it is better to organise their activity according to themes, projects, teams or fields of expertise. They talk about how to manage instruments, share technicians among different projects and ensure internal scientific coordination. They negotiate how work should be divided up between scientists, research engineers and technicians, and especially how autonomous or involved each should be. They discuss operational issues in systematic general assemblies or by setting up a laboratory council. They come to agreements about the operational rules for financial management, equipment purchasing, information dissemination and the co-opting of new members. In research bodies, these organisational issues are just as important. They concern the optimal size of laboratories, the incentive mechanisms, the distribution modes (according to discipline, object, and so on), transverse aspects and procedures for allocating resources and carrying out appraisals. From a political viewpoint, the preoccupation with how to organise research dominates discussions with questions focusing on the right organisational forms: support for teams of excellence or programming and contracting around thematic objectives; creation of large institutes or small team networking; and integration of equipment in research teams or dissociation between technological platforms and laboratories in charge of conceptual work. Organisational questions keep...

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