Working Together : Exploring Relational Tensions in Swedish Academia
Sammanfattning: This study explores the basic social conditions for high-quality university research, and focuses on research in science and technology in Sweden. Swedish research policy has adopted more of a market perspective on academic research and its role in society. This has meant the promotion of competition between researchers, increased focus on efficiency at universities, and attempts to make academia harmonize more with industry and other actors. How do such policies affect the variety of perspectives within the academic system? How do they affect the positions and identities of individual academics? These issues are discussed through the concept of "relational tensions". Relational tensions refer to social strains arising when interacting actors have different perspectives. Relational tensions can stimulate creativity, but may also cause unproductive conflicts. The discussion is underpinned by interviews with university researchers and a case study of Uppsala BIO-X, a program to commercialize university research in biotechnology. Typical cases of relational tensions are identified. These concern both interpersonal relations and differences between organized science and industry. A notable observation concerns potential frustration of individual academics, as competition and efficiency tends to make their positions and identities more contested. Researchers cope with relational tensions in three identified ways: socialization, seclusion, and lateral authority. Socialization is natural and often necessary, but reduces the variety of perspectives. Seclusion serves to retain variety and independence, but reduces interaction with others. Lateral authority is to formally or informally lend a researcher more authority, which improves the chance of maintaining a variety of perspectives without reducing interaction. The sustained usefulness of academic research arguably depends on its ability to foster and communicate a variety of perspectives. Hence, (i) promoting lateral authority seems fruitful within academia and in relations between academia and industry, and (ii) encouraging competition and efficiency may to some extent be counterproductive.
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