Monday, 23 November 2015

Workshop CfP: Changing Political Economy of Research & Innovation (CPERI)

The Fourth Annual Workshop on the Changing Political Economy of Research and Innovation (CPERI)

Producing and Experimenting with Publics in New Political Economies

28-29 June 2016
University of Liège, Belgium


Dr Pierre Delvenne, University of Liège
Dr Nathan Charlier, University of Liège
Dr Mélanie Antoine, University of Liège 


Many disciplines investigate how research and innovation (R&I) contributes to socio-economic development. Yet most mainstream studies tend to focus rather narrowly on R&I as a resource to be mobilized instrumentally to address grand challenges: first and foremost economic growth, but also increasingly climate change, food security, low-carbon economy, social welfare, and the ageing societies. Often, these goals are framed with a loose reference and appeal to ‘the public’ as important agents in these issues. An alliance of scientists, entrepreneurs and the public is increasingly emphasized by policy-makers and innovation actors, developing alternative pathways in science, policy and industry. This agenda has attracted interest also from more critical scholarship, generating an appetite for meaningful movement towards new, sustainable socio-material transitions. Yet the translation to (public) action remains a challenge. A crucial question here concerns understanding of the public – more precisely, publics – and their role in the changing political economy of R&I, where these issues of substantive R&I trajectories and their political economic conditioning and effects are too often neglected.

This workshop seeks to explore how publics and their knowledges, practices and processes as political-economic phenomena transform R&I – actually and potentially – within and across changing contexts and evolving geographies (Slaughter and Rhoades 2004, Mirowski 2010, Tyfield 2011, Birch 2015). Publics have always been an important topic in science and technology studies (STS), with studies of public engagement in, and/or public understanding of, science problematizing scientific authority with regard to lay individuals’ opinions (Wynne 2007) and the emergence of “counter-publics” (Hess 2011). However, the various ways that publics have been mobilized or given roles in R&I processes often overlook issues of political economy that are themselves also changing dramatically: the continued prevalence of programmes of austerity are changing the very institutions of the ‘public’ political economy including of R&I. Moreover, it is critical to unpack issues of political economy in light of proliferating new discourses like Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) or promissory imaginaries such as the “creative economy” (Howkins 2013), the “sharing economy” (Wood and Scantlebury 2014) and the “3rd industrial revolution” (Rifkin 2011), which invoke publics in diverse and possibly novel ways, both descriptive and normative. Furthermore, an array of new situations involving publics in R&I are also emerging; from participatory design in decision-making processes and public value mapping, to Living Labs or FabLabs, to public protests against particular innovations. In ‘techno-nature-society’, thus, ‘publics’ and their changing meaning, forms, socio-political roles and responsibilities, and normative cultural valence thus sit at the heart of changing relations of scientific research, innovation and political economy; and vice versa, regarding investigations of publics as a constructed or imagined contributor to R&I and its governance, as a produced audience and recipient of the outputs from R&I, and as performers in situated experiments of new social forms (Laurent 2010).

The workshop focuses on four substantive and overlapping issues that address the co-production of publics and the political economy of research and innovation:

  • The future role of publics in processes of government: the involvement of publics in participatory decision-making processes (regarding R&I) today is meant to guarantee enhanced democracy and stronger, more robust and more legitimate decisions. This raises questions:
    • Do we overestimate what publics can do, and/or expect too much of them? Based on what conceptions of ‘the public’?
    • Can publics actually direct R&I? How? Or, has public involvement become just another procedural requirement?
    • How might we envision the future role(s) of publics in decisional processes? And to what broader (socio-political) ends?
    • How can ‘publics’ be invoked and included in ways that turn R&I into a locus of a constructive politics, as opposed to merely directing given trajectories and/or minimizing their negative effects?
  • Empowering publics in new innovation processes: today the proliferation of new experiments with publics are often accompanied by an empowerment rhetoric that – ostensibly – profoundly challenge the dominant intellectual property-intensive, global model of science-based innovation. But:
    • When value is generated in such innovation processes, how are the potential benefits shared with directly involved publics? What kind of struggles about risk and benefits (e.g. with intellectual property) are emerging?
    • More generally, how can political economy help to make sense of such embedded innovation/creativity to explain the dynamics of advanced capitalism?
    • How shall we account for the embeddedness of publics in innovation processes that are themselves inserted in socio-economic and socio-political contexts?
  • Public participation as a luxury: the context of multiple and overlapping (economic, ecological, social) crises has often led to the fabrication of imaginaries of scarcity (of competitiveness, of sustained growth, of natural resources, of qualified workers, of public monies).
    • How do such imaginaries impact public participation exercises and the fabric of publics when the context asks for quicker results with smaller budgets? Is quick-and-dirty public participation on its way?
    • What future tensions are there when public involvement is voluntary, unprofessional and potentially biased by public or private sponsors seeking quick returns on investment?
    • How do these scarcity and austerity discourses and imaginaries influence the conception and measurements of impacts of public participation? What ‘public’ is being constructed as a result?
  • Publics and political economic crises: the lack of economic growth is often used to justify cutting public services and institutions, or for introducing new performance indicators and new public management and governance tools. This contributes to enforcing neoliberal dogmas and channelling public and private investment away from what does not directly contribute to short-term economic performance. In R&I, the economization (Popp Berman 2013) of policies is a term coined to highlight the pervasive idea that the main purpose of government is to affect positively the larger economy with R&I as central vehicle. This process happens against the backdrop of mounting social protest and an intensification of “Occupy-movements”/organised publics across the globe, whereas even mainstream economists today denounce continuing neoliberal and austerity politics that are reshaping the ‘public sector’ and public investment.
    • How do studies of publics invoked, performed and constructed by contemporary R&I illuminate this growing divorce between political priorities and societal demands – the growing apotheosis of the ‘public’ in political discourse alongside its systematic dismantling in political economy?

Professor Ulrike Felt, University of Vienna
Dr Johan Söderberg, University of Gothenburg


Please email your abstracts (400 words max) to and by the 31st of January, 2016. Feel free to get in touch before the deadline to discuss your ideas.


The workshop will be held at University of Liege, Belgium, and hosted by SPIRAL Research Centre.


1st Workshop: David Tyfield, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
2nd Workshop: Kean Birch, Department of Social Science, York University, Toronto, Canada
3rd Workshop: Charles Thorpe, Department of Sociology, UCSD, USA

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