SOCSCI Scientific Societies in Contemporary Science

This research project aims to understand the role of scientific societies in contemporary science. Focusing on the case of the Portuguese scientific system, it intends to explore both the functions and activities of Portuguese scientific societies and the associative behaviour and representations of scientists.

An exploratory review of the existing literature has revealed that, though the two subjects of associations and scientific communities have, isolatedly, received considerable attention from the social sciences, the same cannot be said of the articulation of the two themes. Scientific societies have been studied almost solely in historical terms and very little is known on what is their contemporary role in the functioning of scientific systems, in scientific careers, in research, in the communication between scientists, in the connection between science and society.

This project will seek to bridge this gap by developing a two-tiered approach. On the one hand, a census of existing Portuguese scientific societies will be compiled, from which a sample of organisations will be selected. These associations will be then subjected to an in-depth analysis, based on document collection, interviews with members of the governing boards, observation at events and a survey of their members. The purpose of these procedures is to gather information on the activities of the associations, its internal functioning, its resources and handicaps, how they are articulated with other associations and organisations in the scientific system and what roles they play in some specific areas: policy advice, science and business links, science and society relations, social responsibility of scientists. This undertaking will also be complemented by two case studies of an essentially historical nature, but bearing relevance to the current situation.

On the other hand, an internally diverse sample of scientists working in Portuguese institutions will be surveyed, in order to inquire on their associative behaviour and representations, at both national and international level. Here, the main purpose will be to ascertain the role associations play in scientific careers, in research practices and in mediating the relation between individual scientists and wider collective structures (their discipline, the scientific community, society at large, the government, industry). The combination of these different methodological approaches, both quantitative and qualitative, is believed to lead to a more rich and comprehensive understanding of the research problem under analysis.

For the purposes of this project, a wide definition of scientific societies (or associations) will be used. It will encompass private nonprofit institutions devoted to professional and disciplinary aims, labour activism, public engagement with science, links with innovation and industry, diaspora networks.

The main objective of this research project will be to generate new knowledge on a little researched subject. This particular topic should also be suited to stimulate the reflexion and discussion of wider issues, such as the need for building bridges within the scientific community and with society at large. Although it is focused on a national case, it ought to be relevant for the international community of social studies of science, since it is expected to yield results that are valid across borders and

can be used to integrate comparative research with other scientific systems. And though scientific societies may occupy a relatively small place in a field dominated by other institutions, this research may contribute to highlight the work of these organisations, bringing science and society a little closer, and to inform decision-making at several levels (science and technology policies, the strategies and actions of associations and individual scientists).

For this purpose, a wide dissemination of research results is foreseen, both in academic circles (a book, articles in national and international journals, presentations in national and international conferences) and to the general public, through several public engagement with science activities.

The research team gathered together for this project is mainly composed by early career researchers, but who have considerable experience as team members in previous projects and in autonomous research at postgraduate level. They possess solid expertise in the specific areas of associations and Portuguese science and are skilled in different methodologies and techniques. This project will also benefit from the advice and experience of more senior researchers, who will act as consultants. The diversity of social science disciplines and institutions involved also brings added-value to the development of this research project.

The project is funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (PTDC/CS-ECS/101592/2008), with the participation of CIES-IUL and SOCIUS-ISEG.

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