Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Commercialization of Science and the Response of STS (Mirowski and Sent, 2008) Chapter from The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies

The purposes of this chapter are 1) to illustrate the changing dynamics of scientific organizations of past century with the perspective of history of governmental policy, business history, and STS, and 2) to introduce, broadly defined, STS community’s reactions on such changes. Authors begin the essay by declaring their position that “commercialization of science turns out to be a heterogeneous phenomenon, resisting simple definition.” (p. 636) Beyond the simple dichotomy between before/after commercialization, authors synthesize the various scholars’ work to summarize the history of commercialization of research university. 
           Authors categorize the history of 20th century science organization into three periods – Captains of erudition regime, Cold war regime, and Globalized privatization regime. (See p. 641, the table 26.1 which literally summarizes the more than half of this chapter) 
           The age of ‘Captains of erudition’ was approximately from 1890 to the Second World War, which covered the progressive era and the age of structural formation of large-scale research system of the nation. By citing business historian Alfred Chandler frequently, authors emphasize the parallel construction and organization of mass markets which is accompanied by the rational organizational response of science-based industry for technological imperatives. Emergence of large firms in Progressive era and governmental reaction to avoid the trust initiated the corporations’ competition on patent and intellectual property for the indirect control of market. Role of patronage institute such as Carnegie Corporation and Rockefeller Foundation was part of legacy of massive industrial corporations. 
           The Cold war regime took the radical departure from the previous period, as new international, institutional, and political context exerted the control on scientific organizations. Experience of large scale national research project for radar, atomic bomb, and cyclotron changed the role of government in scientific development. In short, rise of science ‘policy’, which implies the managerial role of government, well summarizes the characters of this period. Thanks to the war experience that warranted the linear model relationship between basic and applied science, corporate laboratories began to focus not only on maintenance technology, but also on basic research. University research laboratory could be circumscribed as an ‘ivory tower’, as science contained the value of “purity”, “freedom”, and “democracy”. Thus, image of academic freedom is largely the historical legacy of the Cold war regime, according to authors.
           The third regime, the Global privatization regime, is the contemporary age from 1980s. The beginning of the new age was oil-shock and economic crisis that changed companies’ organizational structure from the Chandlerian (hierarchical) corporation to the diversified structure. In this diversified structure, especially under the globalization context, the function of labor and research began to be ‘outsourced’ and distributed to international partners and universities. University, which had been an ivory tower in Cold war period, attained the research function not only for industry, but also for their business – patents. Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, Stevenson-Wydler Act of 1980, the National Cooperative Research Act of 1984, and the National Technologies Transfer Act of 1989 augmented University’s research activity for patent right. 
           As explicitly claimed in the chapter, one of authors’ purposes is to complicate the story, thus to avoid the narrative that simplifies the commercialization of university as a result of their relentless pursue of money. In other words, commercialization can be understood by the historical context of governmental policy, industrial structure, and international politics, indeed reveals the importance of contextualized understanding of it. If there are contributions by STS scholars about the commercialization, they are detailed stories about changing structure of this cluster.
           Then, how do we understand this changing structure? Authors introduce two major frameworks that describe the commercialization – Mode-2 and Triple Helix. To be succinct, authors criticize that 1) these frameworks are lack of empirical evidence, and more importantly, 2) both of Mode-2 and 3H frameworks provide the safeguard to scholars who want to adhere to neoliberal understanding of science and technology. In detail, those theories accept that ‘knowledge’ is for ‘thing’ and ‘product’, and then serve for generic neoliberal vision of science and technology that “any marketized science whatsoever inevitably enhances freedom, expands choice, encourages extended participation, and improves overall welfare.” (p. 670) For authors’ stance, blurring the distinction between university and corporation, or private and public is part of neoliberal world view which those theories are articulating without much concern. Turning into STS’s role in understanding the commercialization, as a concluding mark, authors assure that “disaggregation of science into its component structures and the disaggregation of its manager into divergent agents is the first step toward constructing a sociologically aware account of the economics of science.” (p. 671)

Questions: 1. Does commercialization of university necessarily mean university’s focus on ‘applied’ research? It looks like authors are using ‘basic research’ function of university as an evidence of less commercialized university in the past periods. Isn’t commercialization about the ‘monetary relationship’ with other institutions? Then, could 'basic research' be the factor to decide the stage of commercialization?

2. Focus of Mode-2 and 3H is not to claim the normative vision for the future. In other words, as we read last week, the main function of Mode-2 and 3H framework is to describe the changing structure, even though Mode-2 theory lacks the empirical evidence. In that sense, is it fair to criticize that Mode-2 and 3H framework are admitting neoliberal order?

3. This could be ‘unfair’ question; however, what is STS in authors’ sense?

Authors - Mirowski is a Carl Kohh Chair of Economics and the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Notre Dame; Sent is professor of Economic Theory and Policy at the University of Nijmegem in the Netherlands.

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