For the last 20 years, research in science and technology studies (STS) has provided an important source of theoretical and empirical renewal. The effects by far exceed science and technology as objects, with the influence of STS being particularly pronounced for the study of organizations, public policy, markets, and social movements: renewal of the analysis of knowledge/power relations; analysis of forms of reasoning and of the diversity of knowledge and controversies; consideration for the role of materiality in what constitutes society (instruments, technical objects, socio-technical arrangements, infrastructure). Without losing sight of these theoretical and methodological assets, it is now time to turn to dimensions that these analyses have neglected far too often, particularly the establishment and maintaining of lasting power asymmetries and the role of institutions. It is also important to take into account the relationship to the long term, by analysing both contemporary transformations of regimes of knowledge production and activities surrounding the construction of futures. We likewise need to investigate not only hot situations, controversies and challenges, but also problems that are prevented from emerging, knowledge that is not produced or that is rendered invisible, and the role of actors given little attention from this perspective, such large corporations, certain international organizations, major research and higher education institutions, etc.
LISIS seeks to contribute to these theoretical and conceptual developments through dialogue between sociology and STS, its two main scientific anchorages. In so doing, it is bolstered by the strength of inter-disciplinarity:
• within the social sciences: STS, Research and Innovation Policy Studies (SPRI), sociology, management, political science, anthropology, ergonomics;
• between the social sciences and other disciplines: informatics, agronomics.
The aim of LISIS research is to understand the social and political transformations linked to scientific and technical innovation in the way we relate to the environment, to economic globalization and to the digitization of social and professional worlds. The implications are twofold: first, it involves working on the joint transformations in ways of producing knowledge and forms of governance (through the parallel study of organizations, public policy and the construction of markets); and second, it means analysing these transformations on different scales, conducting research in many types of spaces (from research laboratories or farms to regulatory agencies and international organizations), and combining qualitative research methods with the processing of large volumes of data.
This project is organized into four main research areas and is driven by three major collective goals.
The first goal is theoretical and conceptual. As regards the study of socio-technical transformations, it is crucial to contribute to renewing conceptions of innovation in society. Taking innovation seriously requires both a better understanding of collective design processes and the associated social and cognitive dynamics, and an analysis of design as an activity that cannot be reduced to knowledge production. It also involves analysing the negotiations, controversies, challenges and conflicts surrounding new technical or organizational solutions. Furthermore, taking innovation seriously requires investigation into the currency of a notion that is constantly used, and into ways of governing innovation, the evaluation of its benefits and risks, the effects of the distribution of resources and wealth, and more generally its social impacts.
It is thus important to make way for a broader conception of innovation processes, taking into account the diversity of its objectives: a conception concerned not only with growth but also with social justice, the reduction of inequalities, and the long-term survival and improvement of democracy. Likewise, there is a need to further knowledge and recognition of the diversity of processes: innovation is not only technological but also social, organizational, and political; not only delegated but also distributed; not only exclusive and proprietary but also founded on the commons and public goods. These processes need to be analysed from different points of view, not focusing only on that of innovators, but also including that of users and non-users. The mutual influences of social forms, innovation processes and the production of new socio-technical assemblages , should also be analysed systematically.
The second aim of LISIS is methodological. Whether LISIS researchers are studying the emergence of agro-ecology, synthetic biology or 3D printing, the influence of standards on innovation in tea plantations in Tanzania or in nano-electronics companies, the regulatory innovations in Europe’s chemical industry, or the circulation of predictive criminology algorithms, their work is rooted in a tradition of in-depth empirical research, attentive not only to the situations and organization of action, to actors’ practices, to technical objects and frameworks and to materiality, but also discursive regimes and institutional dynamics. Beyond their disciplinary affiliations, they all share research practices based on field research, combining qualitative approaches (multi-sited ethnography, document analyses, interviews, etc.) and quantitative processing (mapping and modelling of collaborative networks, database analyses, macro-social trend indicators, etc.). It is our conviction that the work of social science researchers is changing, as: a) we witness a shift in the relationship between qualitative and quantitative (particularly with the end of the assimilation of exploration-validation with qualitative-quantitative ), and b) new possibilities emerge at the interface between digital data collection and processing capacities and the theoretical questions raised in our research fields. It is therefore crucial to acquire innovative facilities (or facilities that allows us to reach this new potential) and to create the necessary experimental spaces, as the articulation between these new techniques and social science research must be pursued and forged if they are to be fully operational and expanded. The potential that we have developed with the CorText platform, which required long and heavy investments (PHARE projects of the CNRS, involvement of INRA, LabEx and DIM, RISIS, funding of facilities by the Region), has developed our disciplinary diversity (collaboration with IT laboratories like the LIGM), as well as an unusual employment structure for a social science and humanities laboratory (engineers, software developers, database technicians), and long-term European commitment (integration into and coordination of European research infrastructure). LISIS has thereby positioned itself as a laboratory conducting research on digital technology and where a digital sociology is developing.
The third goal relates to LISIS’s commitment to research in society. Questions surrounding knowledge, technology and innovation all constitute strong social and political challenges in contemporary societies, and are at the heart of the LISIS project. This orientation also leads to reflection on the interactions between the social sciences and society.
This not only involves asking the predictable question of the different research positions adopted – from action research to more distant or critical positions – but also leads to collective work on the choice of research subjects, on what they reveal or conceal, on forms of attachment to/detachment from actors, on the choice of target audiences for our research, and on the question of knowing “for whom” we work.
Our commitment to research in society draws on the diversity of the training and trajectories of LISIS members, who include many engineers trained in the social sciences. This is valuable for interdisciplinary projects with natural science or engineering science researchers. The development of such projects is a priority for LISIS.
LISIS’s points of anchorage are also valuable. These include INRA, an applied research organization that offers many opportunities for interdisciplinary research on socio-economic transformations. They also include Université Paris-Est and collaboration within the framework of the Health-Society and City-Environment centres and their engineering . We also have in mind our strong anchorage in training in engineering schools, the ESIEE Paris, the École des Ponts ParisTech and AgroParisTech.
LISIS also fosters long-term partnerships with non-academic actors. It is a founding member of the association for the Alliance Sciences Sociétés (ALLISS, Sciences-Societies Alliance) and is developing partnerships with ANSES (a member of UPE). It hosts sociologists working for EDF and ANDRA as associate researchers.