Strategic Research Orientations

The Strategic Research Orientations (SROs) complete the set of activities and tools set up since the creation of the IFRIS:

  • research (ANR Foresight Workshop on ‘Science and Society’; thematic seminars; calls for projects) and teaching (summer schools; assistance for the international circulation of PhD students and young researchers);
  • tools for qualitative/quantitative analysis in the social sciences, using sets of software for processing large corpuses of texts (CORTEX platform) and research on science and technology indicators (Pole Indicateurs, international association ENID).

The SROs correspond to a new stage in the scientific construction of the IFRIS. By defining four strategic research themes for the next few years, they clarify the IFRIS’s position on the global scientific and academic scene.

Before presenting these SROs, it is worth outlining the characteristics common to all these research themes:

  • IFRIS’ research, based on contributions to the study of science and technology over the past 30 years, is focused essentially on the analysis of the roles and modalities of knowledge production in collective action, be it public or political. This pertains not only to scientific knowledge but also to technical knowledge, know-how, forms of reasoning, and technical objects and devices.
  • Various research approaches are adopted, in which the knowledge-power nexus is analysed in different ways: discursive tools or regimes; forms of government or regulation; technical and material devices; and the relevant actors’ practices. The articulation between these different approaches is also analysed.
  • To encourage different ways of addressing these questions, the IFRIS:

undertakes analyses on various spatial and temporal scales, and studies the articulation between them;

adopts a wide range of analytical approaches, from critical analysis to action research. This explains why it grants so much importance to the comparison between various social sciences and between the social and the natural sciences, as well as to the need for a reflexive analysis of the different forms of contribution by the social sciences to action;

develops tools for the social sciences (CorText Platform and Indicators Pole), with the objective of transcending the opposition between quantitative and qualitative analysis. The activities developed in the framework of the SROs will be able to benefit from these tools.

By defining four SROs, the aim of the IFRIS is not to divide up the research field. On the contrary, the Institute considers that the exploration of questions at the interface between the main themes identified is essential. Within the framework of the SROs, the IFRIS is launching a call for applications for post-doctoral grants (see Call). A call for proposals for complementary activities will then be launched: organisation of international conferences, carrying out state of the art reviews, seminars, etc.

“Responsible” innovation

By “responsible” innovation we mean all forms of innovation that are oriented not only towards competition and economic growth, but also towards values transcending an individual and utilitarian conception, e.g. environmental protection, the ethical and moral dimensions of the production and use of products, the issue of equity, etc.

Like sustainable development, “responsible” innovation is a fuzzy, even contradictory, concept. It is therefore necessary to analyse the relevant discourse, (governmental and non-governmental) forms of intervention, tools and practices, and to identify the gaps and links between these different levels.

The research will have a strong empirical dimension but will also aim to question the concept of “responsible” innovation and to propose broader interpretations of this phenomenon. For example, some of the subjects that could be explored are:

  • the genealogy of “responsible” innovation approaches in firms, in public organizations and in the management literature
  • the variety of discourses and practices (e.g. corporate social responsibility)
  • the tools for measuring “responsible” innovation
  • the market mechanisms that support responsible innovation (creation of markets for environmental goods, ethical labels, etc.)
  • the emergence and development of new design practices which take into consideration entire life cycles (such as ‘cradle to grave’ design)
  • the design and implementation of mechanisms linked to CO2 emissions
  • the way social equity is considered (or not) in the assessment of the distribution of costs and benefits of innovation, (etc.)

Changes of knowledge regimes and institutions

Working on changes in the regimes and institutions of knowledge-production leads us to focus on three complementary research themes:

  • Extending our analyses beyond industrial and academic research, to include institutions whose importance has been growing since the 1970s: the leading regulatory agencies; the standardization agencies; NGOs; think tanks; international organizations (World Bank, OECD, etc.) and so on. These institutions will be studied as knowledge-intensive organizations, and work will be done on the ways in which they articulate knowledge-production to the production of governance norms.
  • Re-examining the history of the forms of appropriation and the fields of knowledge circulation. A key focus could be the issue of the scientific commons and their resurgence in the 1970s in parallel with the growth of the sphere of intellectual property, the field of patentability and the commodification of knowledge.
  • Analysis of the mechanisms of transformation of public research (forms and criteria of evaluation, commodification, influence of the actors of civil society, role of experimental tools and systems, etc.) and their effects not only in organizational terms but also on the hierarchy of knowledge and on the nature of the knowledge produced. Analysis could be focused on the current evolution of principles and practices related to “open science” in the production of fundamental knowledge, and on organisational changes and new modes of governance of universities.

Research proposals may cover one or more research themes. They must focus on the identification and characterization of the main changes in the production and circulation of knowledge over time, with the aim of helping to better measure their meaning, impact and implications.

Governing the earth system

The aim of this SRO is to initiate or encourage research on forms of government and tools for managing so-called global “goods”. The topics cover widely diverse aspects, including climate, biodiversity, food security, water management, pandemics, etc. Although these are issues that are often thought of on different scales (global, the global South, countries, regions, cities, villages), not everyone sees these scales in the same way (decisions may be perceived as requiring global anticipation or local adaptation, etc.).

The concept of government itself is multi-faceted. It may consist of voluntary or contractual commitments, be framed by all types of “devices” (indicators such as benchmarks), involve all sorts of actors (both “experts” and “lay persons”, NGOs and “stakeholders”, states and international institutions), be implemented in a variety of ways (construction of markets or amendments to the law), and involve participation (partially) articulated to decision-making, etc.

Research may be focused on forums such as Conferences of Parties as well as local settings. Attention should be drawn to struggles, agenda setting and framing processes – with their highly controversial dimensions. Research should also look at all forms of knowledge production and the way in which they are framed by the choice of parameters (e.g. the 2°C for climate change), as well as management systems (a carbon market), foresight methods, etc.

The following seem particularly important:

  • the study of the choice of scale: on which political level is the problem set; what level of organization is preferred (e.g. the field, the watershed); what level of aggregation is chosen for data construction, etc.?
  • the construction and choice of ‘scientific’ tools: devices, models, indicators, scenarios, prospective schemas; the discursive, ontological and normative constructions underlying them; the territorialization or not of these tools; etc.
  • the specific role of scientists and ‘global’ experts in agenda-setting with regard to these issues; the forms of global regulation of priorities and their tools; the formation and circulation of global experts and their framing of questions;
  • the management of the public sphere and the battle of minds; the production and management of trust in and mistrust of expert knowledge.

The construction of futures

Since the 19th century, societies have been characterized by the ubiquity of the future in present action. Science and technology are related to the future in many different ways: science and techniques can be used in forecasting (modelling the future); they contribute to the creation of futures (emergence of new socio-technical arrangements, symbolic changes, new technical and political orders, etc.); knowledge production is itself influenced by forms of anticipation (from promise to disaster) and by social representations, etc.

This SRO aims to initiate or encourage research on interactions between science, technology and the construction of futures. Research may for example focus on the following themes:

1. The economy of techno-scientific promises

This perspective focuses on the mechanisms or processes of collective engagement in the future. What we here call “the economy of techno-scientific promises” is a regime of engagement in the future, characterized by the idea that technological innovation is “the” solution to political and social problems, and by the fact that the timeframe of action is constructed as one of emergency and extreme necessity or even exception. The making of promises is very often linked to prophecies of catastrophes – the latter being the cause or the consequence of the former. Proposals may plan to work on the transformations of regimes of promises over time or in space, and question the nature of the political and moral order characterizing these regimes. They may also explore the properties of alternative regimes and the futures excluded by the regime of techno-scientific promises. Health, sustainable cities, agriculture, and energy are among the possible fields of research.

2. Foresight and modelling futures: the role of uncertainty and risks

From scientific and technical foresight exercises to the application of models or scenarios, we are currently witnessing a proliferation of futurology-related techniques and devices. Until now, most studies of these models have been on particular domains (e.g. climate, economic, statistical and other models, etc.). It is presently necessary to undertake studies on the effects that these models and scenarios have on scientific and technological production. It would also be relevant to undertake studies on cross-cutting themes concerning the modelling of the future or scenario-building exercises using different techniques in various domains (economic, environment, health, security, etc.). For example:

  • How to characterise the epistemic cultures involved in the production of models or scenarios of the future?
  • How are uncertainty and the plurality of knowledge and situations integrated into modelling or into scenario-building?
  • What are the forms of the validation of knowledge and the processes of construction of its credibility?
  • How is the participation of the stakeholders and concerned publics framed and implemented?
  • How are these models and scenarios framed politically? What is their performativity?, (etc.)
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