Practicing Value Work: doing valorization in practice

Activity: Talk or presentation / Performance / SpeechesTalk or presentation - at conferenceAcademic


Within academia there has been a concerted effort to move away from the so-called ‘ivory tower’ image for some time. Already in the 1970s, ideas about societal relevance and impact were being put onto the agenda, with the Netherlands being considered one of the front-runners in this move (Benneworth & Zomer, 2011). The institutionalization of so-called ‘third mission’ activities reflected the changing relationship between science and society (Etzkowitz et al., 2000). Iterations of the ‘third mission’ discourse takes many forms, most notably ‘societal relevance’ or ‘social impact’, in the Netherlands it is referred to as valorisation (De Jonge & Louwaars, 2009; Shore & Mclauchlan, 2012). Valorisation is often seen as the articulation of the societal value of scientific output. It has become an important criterium in funding applications and in the assessment of the societal impact of individual scholars. At the same time, what counts as societal value, and how this should be assessed in practice, often remains unclear. Valorisation is often reduced to concrete and quantifiable forms of economic knowledge utilization, or seen as a matter of science communication, belonging to the ever-increasing marketing departments of universities. The term valorisation is often ill-defined, thereby hiding expectations and assumptions about the place, role, and ideals of the contemporary scholar in our society. In this paper, we scrutinize practices of valorisation by showing what it actually takes for scholars to valorise their work. Based on two empirical case studies of different practices of scholars’ funding applications and knowledge translations, we argue that valorisation requires specific activities: scholars have to prepare their scientific factsin order for them to become (e)valuated and valorised as having a desirable societal impact. In doing so, scholars anticipate normative appraisal, and enact, articulate and contest different registers of value, including ideals about the role and place of the scholar in our contemporary society. We call these activities value work. We show that value work pervades the whole process of scientific knowledge formation, from decisions regarding funding and research priorities, to the choice of which theories and methods are to be used, as well as how best to communicate research findings. We argue that the notion of value work (in contrast to valorisation) helps to make visible the deliberate efforts that scholars undertake in order to attribute relevance and value to their knowledge claims at different stages of the research process. We suggest that greater attention to the actual value work in valorization practices can inform funding agencies and universities when promoting valorization and societal impact, preventing an instrumental view on valorization that is easily seen as yet another box to tick on the path to individual academic success.
Period6 May 2019
Event title18th Annual STS Conference Graz 2019
Event typeConference
Conference number18
LocationGraz, AustriaShow on map