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Adventures in the nature of trade : the quest for ’relevance’ and ’excellence’ in Canadian science Atkinson-Grosjean, Janet

Abstract

The study addresses: (1) changes in Canada's science-policy climate over the past two decades; (2) impacts o f such changes on the conduct and organization of academic science; and (3) publicinterest implications of promoting, in public institutions, research 'relevant' to private sector needs. Working within the interdisciplinary traditions of science studies, the conceptual framework draws on the cross-cutting tensions at the intersection of public and private space, and basic and applied science. These tensions are articulated in two opposing models: 'open science' and 'overflowing networks'. Canada's Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program provides the study's empirical focus. Founded in 1988, the NCE program rests on dual goals of research excellence and commercial relevance. It promotes a national research capacity that 'floats across' existing provincial institutions. The first part of the study investigates the evolution of the NCE program against the background of Canadian science policy. The second part problematizes the notion of 'network' while investigating one of the NCEs in depth, examining the scientific, commercial, cultural, and spatial-structural practices that are the outcomes of policy. Examination of these practices reveals not only the cultural and commercial shifts sought by policy, but also unintended consequences such as regional clustering; elitism and exclusion; problems with social and fiscal accountability; tensions with host institutions; and goal displacement between science and commerce.

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