Universiteit Leiden

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Utility Spots, Science Policy, Knowledge Transfer and the Politics of Proximity

How we think about and act on the usefulness of scientific research has epistemological and political implications: what knowledge consists of, how it comes about and to what ends. In this dissertation, I situate the usefulness of scientific research in concrete places for knowledge exchange. The exchange of knowledge within and between environments is shaped by many spatial factors: from architectural designs, physical proximity and material infrastructures to city planning, regional development and geopolitics. And not only knowledge travels: also spatial models for research organisation circulate. Focusing on ‘utility spots’ instead of prominent scientists, dominant disciplines or powerful organisations is proposed as a fruitful way to highlight the intersection of political, societal, economic, cultural and scientific developments. In this dissertation I propose and develop the utility spot concept as spatio-historical approach to the epistemology of useful scientific research. This allows me to relate different utility concepts to the histories of science, universities, science policy, and the geopolitics of the Atlantic world in the second half of the twentieth century. Future research into previous, current and future organisation of scientific research with societal value could focus on the politics of proximity (in multiple dimensions) at various utility spots.

Jorrit Smit
06 May 2021
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