Research in the field of science and technology studies (STS) has been an important source of theoretical and empirical revival over the past 20 or so years. Its effects go far beyond science and technology as objects, given that the influence of STS has been significant in the study of organizations, public policy, markets, and social movements. This is evidenced in new ways of analysing knowledge/power relations, forms of reasoning, the diversity of ways of knowing, controversies, and the taking into account of the role of materiality in that which makes society (instruments, technical objects, sociotechnical agencing, infrastructure). Without losing sight of these theoretical and methodological advances, it is currently important to pay attention to the dimensions that these analyses have too often neglected, particularly the establishment and maintenance of long-lasting power imbalances and the role of institutions. It is also important to consider relationship to the long term, by analysing both contemporary transformations in knowledge production regimes and activities that construct futures. It is moreover relevant to look not only at hot situations, controversies and trials, but also at the problems that are prevented from emerging, the knowledge that is not produced or is hidden from sight, and the role of actors that have rarely been studied from this angle, such as large companies, certain international organizations, large research and higher education organizations, and so forth.
The aim of the LISIS is to contribute to this theoretical and conceptual process by engaging in a dialogue between sociology and STS, which are the two main scientific disciplines on which it is founded. To do so, it draws on the advantages of interdisciplinarity:
- within the field of social science, including STS, research and innovation policy studies, sociology, management, political science, anthropology and ergonomics;
- between social sciences and other disciplines, such as information technology or agronomy.
The LISIS’s research seeks to understand the social and political changes stemming from scientific and technological innovation, in our relationship to the environment, to economic globalization, and to the digitalization of the social and professional realms. To this end, it investigates both the joint transformations of ways of producing knowledge and ways of governing (understood through the analysis of organizations, public policy, and the construction of markets), and the different levels at which these transformations take place (by examining various spaces, from research laboratories to farms, regulatory agencies, or even international organizations, and by combining qualitative methods of inquiry with big data processing.
This initiative is divided into four pillars of research, with three primary collective goals.
The first goal is theoretical and conceptual. From the perspective of the study of sociotechnical transformations, it is essential to contribute to the renewal of conceptions of innovation in society. Taking innovation seriously requires a better understanding of collective design processes and the social and cognitive dynamics associated with them, where design is analysed as an activity that is more than simply knowledge production. This likewise involves analysing the negotiations, controversies, challenges, and conflicts that arise around new technical or organizational solutions. Moreover, taking innovation seriously also requires that we examine the currency of a concept that is continuously employed, as well as the ways of governing innovation and the evaluation of its benefits and risks, its effects on the distribution of resources and wealth, and more generally speaking, its social impact.
Room should therefore be made for an expanded conception of innovation processes, and specifically one that takes the diversity of its goals into account. This conception should be guided not only by knowledge but also by social justice, sustainability, the reduction of inequality, and the improvement of democracy. Moreover, the diversity of processes at play should also be recognized: innovation is not only technological but also social, organizational, and political; not only delegated but also distributed; not only exclusive and proprietary but also based on the commons and on public assets. These processes should be analysed from different points of view: not only those of the innovator, but also those of users and non-users. We also need to systematically analyse how social forms, innovation processes, and the production of new sociotechnical arrangements mutually influence one another.
The LISIS’s second goal is methodological. LISIS researchers follow a tradition of thorough empirical research that is simultaneously attentive to situations, the organization of action, practices, technical objects and devices, materiality, discursive regimes, and institutional dynamics, irrespective of the context: the emergence of agroecology, synthetic biology, or 3D printing; the influence of innovation standards on tea plantations in Tanzania or at nanoelectronics companies; regulatory innovation in Europe in the field of chemistry; or the circulation of crime prediction algorithms.. Beyond their affiliations to specific academic disciplines, all LISIS members share field-based research practices that combine qualitative approaches (multi-sited ethnography, documentary analysis, interviews, etc.) with quantitative processing (mapping and modelling of networks of collaboration, database analysis, indicators of macro-social dynamics, etc.). We believe that the profession of social science research is currently changing because: 1) we are witnessing a reconfiguration of the relationship between qualitative and quantitative methods (in particular, no longer equating qualitative methods with exploration and quantitative methods with validation); and 2) new possibilities exist in terms of discovering capacities for collecting and processing digital data and the theoretical questions raised in our fields of research. It is therefore essential to adopt innovative equipment (or equipment allowing us to achieve this new potential) and to create the necessary experimental spaces, as the articulation of these new techniques with social science research must be pursued and improved, for it to become fully operational and widespread. We have built this potential in the form of our CorTexT platform, which required significant long-term investments (CNRS flagship project; the involvement of INRAE, LABEX, DIM, and RISIS; equipment funding received from the regional government) leading to disciplinary diversity (collaboration with IT laboratories, such as the LIGM), an atypical employment structure for an SHS laboratory (engineers, software developers, database technicians), and a long-term European commitment (insertion within and coordination of European research infrastructure). By doing so, the LISIS is positioning itself as a laboratory that conducts research on digital technologies and where the field of digital sociology is being developed.
The third goal concerns the LISIS’s commitment to research in and with society. Questions around knowledge, techniques, or innovation are the issues of major social and political challenges in contemporary societies, and are a core focus of the LISIS initiative. This orientation also leads to reflection on the interactions between social science and society.
In addition to asking the expected question of the different research stances adopted – from action research to more distant or critical stances –, this also leads to collective work on the selection of research topics, that which they allow to emerge or prevent us from seeing, ways of cooperating with the social actors which we study, the choice of the audience for our research, and the question of knowing “who we work for”.
Our commitment to research in society is backed by the diversity of training backgrounds and career paths found among members of the LISIS, which include many engineers with social science training. Interdisciplinary projects carried out in collaboration with natural sciences researchers or engineers are facilitated, as conducting projects of this type is one of the LISIS’s primary goals.
The LISIS’s close ties to other institutions further strengthen it. These could include the INRAE, an applied research organization that offers a multitude of interdisciplinary research opportunities on socio-economic transformations, and the Université Gustave Eiffel, as well as collaboration in the context of clusters on health and society or cities and the environment, and their engineering. Moreover, we can also mention our very close ties with the engineering schools, such as the ESIEE Paris, the École des Ponts ParisTech, and AgroParisTech.
The LISIS furthermore develops long-term partnerships with actors outside of academia. It is a founding member of the Alliance Sciences Sociétés (ALLISS) association and is developing a partnership with the ANSES (which is a member of the Paris-Est-Sup ComUE). Moreover, it currently hosts sociologists stationed at EDF and ANDRA as research fellows.