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Academic ‘Boundaries’ in the Context of the UK Impact Agenda: A Study of ‘Power’ and ‘Control’ in Academic STEMM Research

Cohen, Eliel (2019) Academic ‘Boundaries’ in the Context of the UK Impact Agenda: A Study of ‘Power’ and ‘Control’ in Academic STEMM Research. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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The ‘impact agenda’ for academic research denotes a set of policies which encourage and incentivise academic institutions and researchers to shift focus towards more societally and economically ‘relevant’ problems. This reflects how important an institution academia has become to addressing social, economic and global challenges. However, the impact agenda is perceived by some to represent a challenge to academia’s autonomy and value. This has provoked analytical and normative debate about the extent to which ‘academic boundaries’ are being/should be loosened, weakened or re-shaped to be more responsive to non-academic objectives and interests. My study brings empirical evidence to bear on these debates. Drawing on sociologist Basil Bernstein, I use the ‘boundary’ metaphor as a lens through which to analyse the ‘power’ and ‘control’ over academic research. The sample is 19 bodies of research from ten departments across nine UK universities, covering a range of institutional contexts and a range of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) disciplines. The analysis, based on 345 documentary sources supplemented by 10 interviews with key academics, focuses on the interaction between academic and non-academic ‘power’ and ‘control’ over research knowledge, and considers the implications for ‘academic boundaries’. The analysis finds greater evidence of academic boundaries being maintained and reproduced than of their being weakened, and that this is largely because the non-academic ‘impact’ of academic research contributes to the perceived legitimacy of, and therefore strength of, academic ‘boundaries’. However, the findings also demonstrate that ‘power’ and ‘control’ over academic research is unevenly distributed, both within and beyond academic ‘boundaries’, so that certain types of university, discipline, and non-academic actor exhibit greater ‘power’ and ‘control’ than others, such that there remains cause to be concerned about the future integrity of academic boundaries, and for academic researchers to resist and take ownership over the impact agenda.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield) > School of Education (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Mr Eliel Cohen
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2020 10:32
Last Modified: 11 Feb 2020 10:32
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/25906

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