The first few paragraphs of a new commentary we have just posted to the site, Krithika Srinivasan and Rajesh Kasturirangan’s ‘Impact and the Social Science Imagination’, appear below. In addition, see the article by Srinivasan that appears in the current issue of Society and Space (it will be available open access for the next month). And on a related topic, see Teo Ballve’s recent commentary on the site, ‘A Call for Scholarly Propaganda: Or what can we learn from Thomas Friedman?’ As always, comments are welcome. -The Editors
Krithika Srinivasan, Department of Geography, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
Rajesh Kasturirangan, School of Humanities, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India
The issue of ‘impact’ is increasingly shaping academic agendas in universities across the world. In the United Kingdom, academics expend much energy, time and meeting agendas developing impact strategies for research grant applications and the next REF assessment. In a different part of the world, in India, where applied research has been the norm for a while, recent years have seen an even stronger emphasis by government funding agencies on direct applications of proposed research, and by universities on research that is tailored to the needs of non-academic stakeholders.
The growing emphasis on impact is understandable. Accountability is important, especially in a time of limited resources. Further, modern societies are knowledge societies. Governments and businesses recognize that knowledge production is central to economic success. They look toward academia to produce applied, preferably commercializable, research. The United States has benefited greatly from the close interaction between Stanford University and Silicon Valley, and also the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Highway Route 128 in the Boston area. These successes are increasingly taken as a model for the rest of the world, and for not only the natural sciences, but also the social sciences and humanities.
At one level, the demand for linking academic scholarship more directly to wider social, political and economic concerns is welcome. It does not make sense for scholarship, especially in the social sciences and humanities, to be disconnected from what is going on outside of academia. However, in this commentary we would like to reflect on some concerns about the way in which impact is being conceptualised and pursued in the contemporary academic climate. In doing this, we participate in some emerging debates (e.g., Rogers et al 2014; Brewer 2013) on the implications of the impact agenda for social science and humanities scholarship across the globe.
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