Politics of scientific reflection
The current issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation takes up questions about what societal reflection currently looks like in scientific practices, what effects it may be having on research choices and dissemination activities, and how best to conceptualize the relations between scientific innovation, social responsibility, and political change.
Glerup, Davies, and Horst (2017) conduct interviews and participant-observation with publicly funded scientists in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States to explore their practices and perceptions of responsibility. While they find limited awareness of ‘top-down’ policies such as RRI among these scientists, they also identify other responsibilities and practices, some of which appear to be ‘highly socially engaged’. Accordingly, the authors recommend cultivating synergies between scholarly conceptions of responsible science and innovation and these ‘bottom up’ scientific responsibility practices as well as more closely attending to the broader institutional contexts that help give rise to these practices.
Similarly, Rosenlund, Notini, and Bravo (2017) take policy and funding organization pressures for scientists to produce socially relevant research as an occasion to investigate whether societal reflection among scientists ‘actually occurs’ and whether such reflection produces ‘a measurable effect’. Their analysis of survey responses from 307 environmental scientists at Swedish universities finds that societal reflection by these scientists ‘has become part of their everyday life and impacts what type of research’ they choose to conduct. Remarkably, these results hold both for scientists who identify as applied researchers as well as for those who identify as basic researchers.
In the third and final research article, Bergen (2017) notes that scholarship on responsible innovation has tended to emphasize ‘responsibility’ while leaving ‘innovation’ undertheorized. This approach leads to a view of responsibility as something to be added to rather than cultivated from within innovation. Locating innovation in the ethical phenomenology of Emmanuel Levinas, Bergen argues that it is itself an ethical and political response to the demands of the other. If innovation is an act of political responsibility, however, it is a provisional and dynamic one that needs to be continually attended to and adjusted. Rather than an unmitigated social good, Bergen concludes that innovation must be ‘self-critical and reflective’ if it is to be justly and inclusively responsive to its changing techno-political contexts.
Lastly, in his review article of the RRI Tools project, Groves (2017) celebrates the diversity of collaborative approaches and engagement methodologies that have emerged in a short period of time as responsible innovation moves from abstract principles to more concrete practices. Cautioning, however, against ‘simply fetishizing engagement as a coming together of experts and non-experts’, he calls for contextual and critical awareness of ‘where these activities fit within the innovation system’ and of the ‘institutional structures and processes’ that can limit and constrain scientific practices and their techno-political outcomes.
As the contents of this issue suggest, both the scholarship and practices of responsible innovation will do well to take into account the ‘constant innovation of technological and political systems’ (Bergen 2017) out of which they arise.