Research, policy and funding - academic treadmills and the squeeze on intellectual spaces

Smith, Katherine E. (2010) Research, policy and funding - academic treadmills and the squeeze on intellectual spaces. British Journal of Sociology, 61 (1). pp. 176-195. ISSN 0007-1315

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    Abstract

    In recent years, there has been a great deal of collective rumination about social scientists' role in society. In the post-1997 UK context, public policy commitments to 'evidence-based policy' and 'knowledge transfer' have further stimulated such reflections. More recently, Michael Burawoy's 2004 address to the American Sociological Association, which called for greater engagement with 'public sociology' has reverberated throughout the discipline, motivating a series of debates about the purpose of sociological research. To date, most such contributions have been based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence. In contrast, this paper responds directly to Burawoy's suggestion that we should 'apply sociology to ourselves,' in order that we 'become more conscious of the global forces' driving our research (Burawoy 2005: 285). Drawing on an empirical research project designed to explore of the relationship between health inequalities research and policy in Scotland and England, in the period from 1997 until 2007, this paper discusses data from interviews with academic researchers. The findings suggest that the growing pressure to produce 'policy relevant' research is diminishing the capacity of academia to provide a space in which innovative and transformative ideas can be developed, and is instead promoting the construction of institutionalized and vehicular (chameleon-like) ideas. Such a claim supports Edward Said's (1994) insistence that creative, intellectual spaces within the social sciences are increasingly being squeezed. More specifically, the paper argues we ought to pay far greater attention to how the process of seeking research funding shapes academic research and mediates the interplay between research and policy.