JCJC SHS 1 - JCJC : Sciences humaines et sociales : Sociétés, espace, organisations et marchés

Who Governs Science ? Scientists, Public Authorities, Economic and Social Actors in the Science Policy Making Process in France and Great-Britain (1961-2010). – GO SCIENCE

Who Governs Science?

A Political Sociology of Transformations in Research in France and the UK.

Understanding the reconfigurations of research policies

Across Europe, research policies have changed considerably in the past fifteen years. The rise of competitive funding, the reform of academic evaluation, and the race for excellence launched by European states to adapt research institutions to international competition have profoundly altered the conditions under which researchers experiment, investigate, and publish. Sometimes described as a necessary adaptation to international pressure, often denounced as a threat to the autonomy of researchers and basic research, these changes are not central to the research agenda of social scientists interested in academia as a topic. The Go science project aims to document how the actors governing research policies and the tools with which they govern have evolved since the early 1960s. This project will focus on France, comparing and contrasting with the reconfiguration of research policies in Britain in recent years.

The Go science team is a multidisciplinary team made up of sociologists, political scientists, and historians. Project members have collected a vast data set of written sources (archives, grey literature, CVs in biographical dictionaries, etc.), have conducted interviews with key policy actors, and have observed scientific committees and members of funding agencies at work. Qualitative and quantitative analyses of these data have been made. Networks and prosopographic analysis have been used to map the changing configuration of actors governing science and to analyse the evolution of their career paths. The research team has focused on three historical periods (the mid 1960s, the mid-1980s and the late 2000s). Qualitative analysis has been mobilised to understand reconfigurations of instruments used to steer basic research. Focusing on research grants, the team has at this time made a longitudinal analysis of the French case (from the early 1960s to the late 2000s). This analysis compares and contrasts the reconfiguration of research policies in France and Britain in recent years. Biomedicine and climate research, two scientific fields that are highly contested politically, socially, and economically, were chosen for specific study.

Two main findings can be identified from the survey. First, it may be observed that while academics remain key actors in the steering of research policies, their profiles and roles have become more specialised and professionalised. Second, the survey shows that instruments have not so much been renewed as their uses transformed. Project-based funding in France is a good example of this point: set up in the early 1960s, the transformation of its uses reconfigured its political aims. Back then, it was used to support new scientific fields and relied on strong links among the members of scientific committees and the principal investigators. By the 2000s, it had become a bureaucratic and generic instrument of research funding that fostered intense competition among academics.

The project results have yet to be fully deployed. At this time, three scientific papers and a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal have been published, six presentations at international and national conferences have been made, and two seminars have been organised by team members. The team is also working on a collective book project that will summarize the main findings of the survey.

The Go science project is a basic research project coordinated by Jérôme Aust (Sciences Po, CSO). The others members of the team are Martin Benninghoff (University of Lausanne, OSPS), Pierre Clément (Sciences Po, CSO), Cécile Crespy (Sciences Po Toulouse, LaSSP), Mathieu Hauchecorne (Paris 8, Labtop), Boris Hauray (Inserm, Iris), Morgan Jouvenet (CNRS, Printemps), Emmanuelle Picard (ENS Lyon, LARHA), and Etienne Ollion (CNRS, Sage). The project began in February 2011 and lasted 48 months. It received support from ANR €188,000, for a total cost of approximately € 300,000.

The project “Go Science” questions how scientific policies have been shaped in France and Great-Britain since the 1960s. It proposes to apply the question who governs? to a policy domain which has not been greatly analyzed by the social sciences. To answer this question, the project explores how various networks of scientists, civil servants, politicians, economic and social actors tend to define the main priorities of national science policies.

By associating political scientists, sociologists and historians, the survey tries to qualify the consequences of two major transformations. First, it questions the impact of the reshaping of state intervention on the government of science policies. Subsequently, it tries to understand the consequence of the growing involvement of economic and social actors in the policy making process. Three crucial periods for the understanding of the reforms and shifts (the 1960s, the 1980s and the 2000s) and two disciplines, physics and biology, are investigated. The survey will be organised in two main steps. First, it will begin by questioning the hypothesis of the renewal of the profiles of the experts through scrutinizing their career. Secondly, the survey proposes to consider these actors “in action” to further understand the policy making process. Through examining the networks of experts, this research project aims at proposing a fresh vision on the relations between science, State, economy and society as well as investigating unknown dimensions of scientific activities.

Project coordinator


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.



Help of the ANR 188,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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