9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN24 Science and Technology

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Knowledge Flows and Mobility in Science and Technology Building AA, AA.223

Re-thinking the spaces and flows of science

Spaces and flows of scientific knowledge, personnel and innovations are topics of great interest to institutions and policy-makers. The perceived importance of science and technology for economic growth and social development has lead to the building of frameworks for knowledge and learning that transcend national borders and reflect the interdependencies of globalisation. Traditional centres of excellence in North America and Europe have been joined by emerging knowledge hubs in Asia, whilst south-south collaboration in science and technology is also expanding as flows of private sector R&D investment diversify. In such a context, competition for scientists and engineers encourages the adoption of policies to attract and retain highly skilled researchers. However, much of the thinking underlying these policies is based on neo-classical economic understandings of human capital. For example, a concept such as 'brain drain' is limited by its reliance on neo-classical human capital theory and not well suited to the collective and distributed nature of scientific research teams, epistemic communities and collaborative networks. This paper argues that better tools for understanding the dynamic interplay of human capital mobility, scientific knowledge production and diffusion, and technology transfer exist in sociological studies of science. The paper describes and discusses two theoretical approaches: Callon's 'techno-economic networks' and Bozeman and colleagues' 'knowledge value collectives'. These perspectives emphasize the irreducible role of tacit knowledge in the replication of scientific research and the structuring of research collectives through social capital networks respectively. Scientists' mobility and networks are thus understood as both fundamental to the research activity of science and integral to the processes (training, postdocs) and contexts (laboratories, centres, departments) responsible for the (re-)production of scientific fields. It is argued that these insights offer a better starting point for thinking about transformations in the institutional organisation and social and spatial distribution of scientific activity. From this perspective the role of public policies is not so much to build 'markets' able to attract and retain scientists but to observe and support the process of distributed network (re)configuration. Finally, implications of this approach for the European Research Area are considered, particularly in relation to socio-economic interdependence and development.