Economic principles and scientific practice. Case-study on research groups in materials science

  • Project team:

    Schleisiek, Anna (dissertation)

  • Start date:


  • End date:

    (resigned from ITAS)

  • Research group:

    Knowledge society and knowledge policy

Project description

The "anti-economic economy" of science, how Pierre Bourdieu has termed it, is also the "illusio", the specific form of scientific self-interest, characterized by unselfishness, gratuitousness, as well as the actors ability to sense where prestigious research topics lie, and the strive for recognition amongst colleagues. It is the "altruism that pays" as in other economies of symbolic goods which is the primary characteristic of the scientific field. In this quality lies the difference to the "ordinary" economy which is centered on material goods. The autonomy of the scientific field can be measured in its ability to stay true to these characteristics and by the degree to which forces within the scientific field are independent of the forces of other social fields. To Bourdieu, it is the ability of the fields’ actors to break or specifically form constraints or demands regarding other social fields, which determines the scientific fields’ autonomy.

During the last 20 years research governance in European countries has been transformed. Germany is a recent case within this transformation process that is leading to a more market oriented research governance. All institutions of Germany’s publicly funded research system such as universities or research organizations are affected by this process that is driven by "initiatives" coming from the political field. One can identify two main objectives of these "initiatives"; one is directed at the organization of scientific practice where in order to achieve excellence through competition, economic principles are implemented as organizational principles following the idea of the market-form as best organizational principle. The other objective is directed at the commercialization of research results that should be increased in order to achieve economic growth for the society through innovation. A popular example for this new research governance is the introduction of New Public Management (NPM) with which instruments from business administration are introduced into universities as organizational principles.

While this process affects all disciplines and institutions of the scientific field in some way, materials science is a special case. More than in other scientific fields, researchers are expected to fulfill societal expectations of innovation and economic growth. But while new Governance instruments are being implemented into Germany’s public research organizations, there is still little empirically based knowledge available on the effects of this new governance on scientific practices in this or other scientific fields. What role do economic principles play in research teams’ day-to-day practice? Are its actors able to reproduce their illusio, or do they follow economic motives? To fully understand the implications of this new research governance for this scientific field, the analytical focus has to be directed at the micro-level and research teams’ day-to-day practice has to be taken into focus. Reconstructing the research teams’ routines will allow me to gain insight into the decision making process in research teams and into the structural and non-structural aspects shaping these decisions and their consequences.

With this PhD project, these questions will be addressed in a micro-sociological study using methods of qualitative social research in a comparative case study approach. The case studies will be conducted in one research team for each of the following research organizations: Helmholtz Association, the Fraunhofer Society, the Max Planck Society as well as a University.

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Uwe Schimank, Universität Bremen
Advisor: Bettina Krings
Related projects: Knowledge policy
Doctoral students at ITAS: See Doctoral studies at ITAS


Dipl.-Soz. Anna Schleisiek
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe