EU research agendas: embedding what future?

Levidow, Les and Neubauer, Claudia (2014). EU research agendas: embedding what future? Science as Culture, 23(3) pp. 397–412.





Horizon 2020 has extended the EU’s dominant policy framework promoting capital-intensive techno-fixes. Societal challenges are pre-defined in ways which favour such priorities. The EU’s problem-oriented focus may link various technoscientific disciplines in an interdisciplinary approach, but this maintains a marginal role for the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). Given the promise to ‘embed’ the SSH across the EU research agenda, this can easily mean a role of identifying societal obstacles to technoscientific advance.

Despite those constraints, EU research agendas offer some opportunities to explore alternative ways of defining societal challenges and addressing them through different ‘innovation’ models. In some recent projects this has been done by incorporating diverse stakeholders and CSOs in agenda-setting. In the margins, Horizon 2020 has some opportunities to develop joint knowledge-production (through the multi-actor approach), as well as to explore responsibility for innovation trajectories (through RRI).

These initiatives can build upon similar experiences in previous Framework Programmes. Academics can facilitate these efforts through cooperation with CSOs in policy interventions as well as research projects. Beyond the short timescale of most research projects, CSOs have a long-term capacity to elaborate and promote alternative research agendas.

But these opportunities remain fragile – contingent on textual ambiguities within EU research agendas and strategic interventions there. Crucial distinctions are evaded by proposals to ‘embed’ SSH in research programmes or to ‘embed’ innovation in society (e.g. Vilnius Declaration, 2013). To help open up societal futures beyond techno-fixes, the SSH will need sharper critical analyses and strategies.

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