Maximilian Fochler (University of Vienna): Anticipating uncertainty
Ass. Prof. Dr. Maximilian Fochler is visiting the Science Studies Colloquium Series. Fochler is Head of Department / Deputy Director of the Sociology Studies Programme at the University of Vienna.
The seminar is open for everyone!
Photo: University of Vienna
How researchers in life science academia and biotech companies experience and manage the uncertainties of research processes
Uncertainty is an inherent part of research processes. For many, it even is a defining criterion of research that its outcomes cannot be predicted. However, the organization of research work in many contexts has changed in ways that require researchers to anticipate how their work will develop, and in particular in which temporal intervals it will deliver accountable outputs.
Anticipating output implies an anticipation and management of the uncertainties of research processes. The current organization of research work hence produces new kinds of uncertainties - “anticipatory uncertainties”. These anticipatory uncertainties do not primarily refer to uncertainties of the knowledge itself, but to whether research processes will be productive in a specific time frame.
Building on a paper co-authored with Lisa Sigl, I compare how researchers experience and manage anticipatory uncertainty in two institutional contexts that share similar epistemic approaches but differ strongly in their institutional organization: academic life science laboratories and start-up biotechnology companies. In both contexts anticipatory uncertainty plays a crucial role for actors’ practices. Our empirical argument is based on extensive fieldwork in several research projects in Austria.
Our results show that the different forms of work organization in the two contexts studied correspond with very different ways of experiencing and managing anticipatory uncertainty. These different ways are related to very different multi-level dynamics of competition, different regimes of valuation, and the corresponding attribution of uncertainties. The management of epistemic uncertainties in both domains is enabled or constrained by these attributions in specific ways.