Chapter 3: The need for historical inquiry into societal impact evaluation: towards a genealogy of the notion of useful research
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This chapter calls for the need for historical inquiry when discussing current societal impact evaluation. The chapter offers a critique of The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (Gibbons et al., 1994). We also observe how their ideas lie at the heart of the current impact agenda in Europe. The chapter challenges the idea of societal impact as a new or emerging phenomenon due to the nature of how research and society develop by analysing the main assumptions of their arguments and showing how the same claims have been made several times throughout history. In doing so, we reveal that it is not the relation between science and society that is changing but the ideology in governance. Second, we propose a typology that helps us to systematise approaches towards conceptualising the research-society nexus. This offers the possibility of contextualising current societal impact evaluation practices and in identifying potential alternatives. It serves as a tool for the future development of a “genealogy of useful research” that will deepen our understanding of the relation between research and society.

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