Research Program

The CASTI network employs methods from a variety of disciplines to study the conceptual language of science, technology, and innovation (STI). The network’s aims are, first, to understand the role that key concepts play in communicating aspects of STI, second, to analyse the long term semantic change in STI, and, third, to gain a reflexive understanding of the analytical vocabulary of fields that study STI, in particular science and technology studies, history of science and technology, philosophy of science, science policy studies, and studies of innovation.

Four criteria define the network’s intellectual focus.

1. Fundamental Concepts on and in STI

The network is interested in fundamental concepts that help define STI. Following a linguistic framework proposed by Roy Harris, CASTI interprets the terms ‘science’, ‘technology’, and ‘innovation’ as supercategories that organize the intellectual and political life of the modern world. Each of these supercategories has its own rhetoric, often cultivated by professional groups who promote their own interests. In this context, supercategories can function as ideologies or ideographs. However, these concepts also serve as analytical categories to describe the role of STI within modern societies. They are essentially contested concepts, entrenched in struggles over the proper means and ends of knowledge. The CASTI network aims to examine the historical legacy of these fundamental concepts, their multiple meanings, their divergent discursive functions, and their emergence as social facts within institutional settings.

Also relevant to the network is the broader semantic field in which the supercategories of STI are embedded. This field encompasses key distinctions, such as ‘theory and practice’, ‘artes liberales et mechanicae’, ‘pure and applied science’, ‘basic and applied research’, and ‘research and development’. Related to these distinctions are conceptual variations, for example ‘mission-oriented’, ‘strategic’, ‘use-inspired’, ‘frontier’, and ‘translational’ varieties of research. Also relevant are neologisms like ‘technoscience’, along with conceptual models such as ‘the linear model of innovation’, as well as categories related to professional identities, among them ‘engineer’, ‘scholar,’ and ‘scientist’. Furthermore, labels that denote the identity of communities, disciplines, and research fields (‘humanities’, ‘natural philosophy’, ‘economics’, ‘life sciences’, ‘biotechnology’ or ‘nanotechnology’) are crucial to understanding STI as a semantic field. The same goes for attributes that represent relations of these areas such as ‘interdisciplinarity’, ‘transdisciplinarity’, or the ‘two cultures’ debate.

Such concepts are all part of discourses on or about science and technology. CASTI members also investigate broad concepts used in STI, such as ‘objectivity’, ‘rationality’, ’empiricism’, ‘evidence’, ‘system’, ‘efficiency’, ‘productivity’, or ‘rationalization’. These terms are claimed to represent the essence or overall characteristics of the field. In this sense, even scientific and technical terms such as ‘atom’, ‘genome’, ‘energy’, ‘evolution’, or ‘life’ can be of interest as long as they become emblematic for the representation of STI at a certain period. In contrast to studies in philosophy of science, the interest of the network does not lie in the epistemic role of such concepts. It is rather the public discourse revolving around key concepts of temporarily leading research fields in which expectations of what STI is able to do and ideas of how STI should be organized or contribute to society are exemplified.

2. Self-Descriptions and Identity

The concepts analyzed by CASTI members are often used in self-descriptions of scientists and engineers, research institutions, disciplines, and professional communities. These categories may also be used in self-descriptions of society as whole, for example in concepts such as ‘knowledge society’ or ‘innovation society’. In science and technology studies, analysis of self-descriptions have mainly focused on the process of boundary work. For CASTI, in contrast, self-descriptions are significant for a whole set of crucial functions they fulfill in diverse contexts. These functions include the use of metascientific concepts to communicate and negotiate ideals, norms, and values, to convey expectations, ideologies, interests, and dilemmas, and to reflect on institutional and financial arrangements in science, technology, and society. In short, self-descriptions help constitute identity, not just of individual subjects, but also of communities, institutions, and, finally, the supercategories themselves.

3. Methodological Approach

Despite the diversity of the network, its methodological core resides in the history of concepts in the tradition of Reinhart Koselleck. For decades, this tradition has been relevant mainly within political history and theory. In science and technology studies, conceptual history has gone almost completely unnoticed, despite a growing dialogue between conceptual history and other fields, such as intellectual history, linguistic studies, studies of metaphors and symbols, discourse analysis, and the sociology of knowledge. In a sense, the history of concepts has gone through a transition from disciplinary conceptual history to interdisciplinary conceptual approaches.

4. Historical Perspective

Members of the CASTI network share a historical perspective. This does not mean that CASTI restricts itself to the history of science and technology. On the contrary, the network aims to bring historical perspectives to research fields that lack awareness of the historicity of the concepts they use. For example, in the field of ‘innovation studies’ most scholars use abstract and ahistorical conceptions of innovation, thereby ignoring how the very meaning of their subject matter has changed in the course of history. The field of science and technology policy studies provides another case, where analysts regularly propose new concepts to encourage research that is more responsive to societal needs, but without reflecting on how the new concepts relate to their historical predecessors and even existing concepts.