CE41 - Inégalités, discriminations, migrations

Social Transformation in South African Science and Innovation – STIS

Submission summary

Achieving a balanced representation of racial and other specific social groups in desirable occu- pations is important both politically and socially. Failing to tap the talent of large parts of the population to the benefit of society is limiting economic growth in terms of human capital. This is true in many different social and economic milieux, but it becomes particularly compelling in the university systems of knowledge-based economies. Participation in the education system is now a precondition for equal opportunity in all other spheres of life, and the science system is an increas- ingly important pillar of the innovation system driving economic growth. This project investigates the integration of formerly excluded groups into socially attractive occupations and positions, with an empirical focus on the racial transformation of the South African science system. We address this issue from two perspectives: the processes by which this change happens; and the consequences of the transformation on the structure and content of the research system.

A large literature argues that successful entry into a profession depends on features of a person’s social network. In contrast to much of the literature, we treat this issue using multiplex network structures in which we do not collapse all the different types of relations individuals might have (student-supervisor, co-author, citation, co-location) into a single network but treat them as dif- ferent, interacting networks. Further, we have access to a unique dataset from the South African National Research Foundation, containing rich biographical information on almost all research- active academics in the country. Thus our empirical analysis not only observes different types of links between academics, it also takes account of the role of individual characteristics (age, race, gender, education, discipline . . . ). We do a much more nuanced empirical analysis than has hith- erto been possible. In examining this social transformation we ask: does transformation move from layer to layer; is there a typical pattern for a single individual; does one layer transform before an- other. We treat the work structure as just another layer in the multiplex network of social relations wherein two people have a link if they share an employer. Integration at the institutional level is thus not a simple dependent variable depending on labour market dynamics, but rather just one of several layers interacting as a complex system. This conceptualization permits a more complete empirical analysis which in turn informs our modelling. In the latter we build an agent-based model of the academic system as it undergoes this social transformation. The model includes different types of relationships among academics (a multiplex network), and examines how evolution in one layer interacts with evolution in another. Racial integration can be considered in any layer, even if the policy discourse has centred on the workplace or institutional layer. Calibrating the model to the SA case permits us to examine carefully which factors could be valuable policy levers to speed the process. The last part of the project begins from the observation that currently black and white academics gravitate towards different academic disciplines. If this disciplinary “preference” remains unchanged, this implies that social transformation of the science system will be accompanied by a transformation of the type of science done, with further implications for the entire innovation system. We examine this hypothesis using the model we develop earlier, to ask whether social transformation will be accompanied by transformation of the science system itself.

Project coordination

Robin Cowan (Bureau d'économie théorique et appliquée (UMR 7522))

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CREST Centre de Recherche en Economie et Stastistique - CREST
Maastricht University / UNU-MERIT
CAMS Centre d'analyses et de mathématiques sociales
University of Stellenbosch / Centre for Research and Evaluation of Science and Technology (CREST)
BETA - UNISTRA Bureau d'économie théorique et appliquée (UMR 7522)

Help of the ANR 276,999 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2018 - 36 Months

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