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2014 ECPR: that’s a wrap!

Mari ElkenMari Elken

The ECPR General Conference in 2014 was held between 3-6 September at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. The conference took place just over a week before the Scottish referendum, and as such, the city was not only flooded with political scientists, but also political campaigners from both sides. While we all now know the results of the referendum, the “yes” side seemed to be dominating the public space at the time.

The ECPR conference overall is huge, as usual. With over 2500 political scientists from all over the world, the event truly provides an arena for discussing the state of the art of the field. Higher education and research policy continued the tradition of being represented by a collection of panels in the Europe of Knowledge section. While this merely represents one section amongst 66, this nevertheless marks also continuity, as the section focused on Europe of Knowledge has now been present at ECPR conferences since 2011, and as such continues the success of the Europe of Knowledge section in previous years. For sure, the panels this year also included many high quality papers and the debates opened up some interesting new avenues for research related to knowledge policies in Europe.

As usual, the main roundtables and keynotes were not directly relevant to higher education as such. The main keynote lecture was held by Iain McLean from the University of Oxford whose lecture was titled “Parliaments in Fiscal Federalism: Spending too Much, Taxing too Little?”. Furthermore, two roundtables were held, with focus on democracy and human rights. What is typical for ECPR is that it is the paper presentations at the panels that take up most of your time. This year, Europe of Knowledge section was chaired by Mitchell Young (Charles University in Prague) and Meng-Hsuan Chou (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), and it was composed of five panels:

  • Comparative higher education regionalism (chaired by Mitchell Young, with Pauline Ravinet as discussant)
  • Converging modes of governance: academic-oriented science (chaired by Dagmar Simon, with Tim Flink as discussant)
  • Opening the “black box” of political actors in the Europe of Knowledge (chaired by Dragan Mihajlovic)
  • Regulatory science – transformations at the science-policy-public nexus (chaired by Rebecca-Lea Korinek, with Holger Strassheim as discussant)
  • The “big” ideas in the Europe of Knowledge (chair/discussant Meng-Hsuan Chou).

Each of these panels had 4-5 papers presented, accumulating to a substantial number of papers in this section. One of the panels in the section marked an emerging research focus on the role of regionalism in higher education. There, Susana Melo (University of Nottingham) examined the relations between the Council of Europe and the Bologna Process through the lens of new regionalism; Susan Robertson (University of Bristol) examined the diverging dynamics of regionalism across various continents; Meng-Hsuan Chou and Pauline Ravinet presented a new research project on regional initiatives; and Martina Vukasovic and Jeroen Huisman examined a number of smaller countries in Europe to analyse regional integration processes.

In the panel focused on the political actors, papers were presented that examined various kinds of actors – by examining the role of political parties (Jens Jungblut, University of Oslo) and European level actors (Amelia Veiga, Antonio Magalhaes and Alberto Amaral) as well as the mobility patterns of top researchers (Maarja Beerkens). Perhaps unsurprisingly the panel focused on the big ideas primarily had focus on excellence, mobility and the knowledge-based economy as key concepts, where this was examined from a comparative perspective (Mads Sørensen, Carter Bloch and Mitchell Young) as well as examining it in the context of the Nordic countries (Lars Geschwind and Romulo Pinheiro). The remaining panels with focus on research governance had a more clear focus on science and technology studies.

Of particular interest from a higher education research perspective is that this section on Europe of Knowledge brings together researchers on higher education, as well as those focusing on research policy, and science and technology studies. As such, this section also provides a fascinating combination of theoretical and methodological perspectives – combining research from vastly different epistemological starting points. While there is still more ground to cover to integrate the research traditions and the groups can become even more mixed, these debates across fields can also provide a starting point for boundary-pushing research in the future. Some of the debates that emerged during ECPR this year definitely show signs of this.

University of GlasgowThis collaboration between the fields was also noted as a personal highlight by Jens Jungblut: “My personal highlight of this year’s ECPR conference were the interesting debates in the section addressing the Europe of Knowledge. Especially the cooperation between higher education researchers and scholars from science and technology studies was very inspiring.” One can hope that these cross-field and cross-boundary debates will continue, as it really seemed to be the case that in some occasions the conclusions were rather similar where the methodology and analytical concepts that led you there were rather different.

Furthermore, what was delightful was that these debates also continued during the dinner for the section, where presenters, discussants and chairs of the whole section gathered. These more informal settings also provide an important starting point for further collaborations, this I am sure of. The conference taking place in Glasgow provided also a really wonderful scene for the conference reception at the Kelvingrove Gallery and Museum – with elephants and airplanes as the background, this is not something you get every day.

In addition to the Europe of Knowledge section, the section “Governing Knowledge: Policy and Politics of Knowledge Production and Use” provided a number of interesting insights. With panels ranging from focus on think tanks, to the role of expertise in democratic processes, to the use of knowledge in disaster management, this section also included panels with focus on the role of ideas and indicators in science policies and research management. Interesting papers were presented on the transformative power of research evaluation (Emanuela Reale, CNR-CERIS) and how focus on rankings transforms research work (Paul Wouters and Sarah De Rijcke – Leiden University).

An important driver for the Europe of Knowledge section is the ERA-CRN network that includes a number of the presenters in this section, and that also included a lunch arrangement at ECPR to gather people with interest in these topics. With an explicit focus on European Research Area (ERA) as well as European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the network brings together researchers from two research traditions that had previously been somewhat separated as groups. If you have interest in these topics, be sure to become a member – aside the Europe of Knowledge section, the network also organises a number of workshops and events throughout the year.

From next year, the conference will take place annually, and the 2015 conference signifies ECPR “going global”, with the conference being arranged in Montreal, Canada. This is a new development for a conference that this far has taken place biannually and always within Europe.

What we already know is that there will definitely be a proposal for a section on Europe of Knowledge, with a range of interesting panel ideas already circulated and discussed. Therefore, fingers crossed for a successful application and for more fascinating presentations and papers next year!

This summary was originally posted on Hedda.

Scientific mobility: an alternative to established narrative

Chiara Carrozza

I spent part of my morning browsing The Researchers’ Report 2014 developed in line with the key priority of ensuring the “free circulation of knowledge” in the European Research Area (ERA), and a relevant part of it focuses on the progresses made at both European and national level in removing or alleviating some of the well-known obstacles to scientific mobility.


Photography credit: Tobi Gaulke (, “Waiting for check-in”.

In common with a substantial body of scientific literature on the topic, studies such as this new report – while certainly offering relevant information for the policy and scientific community – convey a quite deep-rooted narrative of scientific mobility: a phenomenon that can be grasped within the dichotomy movement-stasis; pivoting on the nation state; associated to a stylized image of the academics (flexible, rational, independent, driven by professional ambition); governable by manoeuvring pull and push factors and, last but not least, which should be invariably regarded as “something good”, both at micro and macro level. Scientific mobility is depicted as a uniform phenomenon, mostly variable – and measurable – along its quantitative dimensions, both at the individual (duration) and at the collective scales (flows and stocks).

On the contrary, the experiences of academic migrants reveal a panorama that is much more nuanced, from the qualitative point of view: academic mobility can be strategized, materialised, institutionalised and performed in a wide variety of ways (Robertson 2010: 642; see also Cantwell 2011). It can be multi-directional or unilateral and it often repeats many times in different forms: joint research projects, special mobility programs, academic exchange or time-limited work under fixed-term contract. (Ivancheva and Gourova 2011, 187; see also Ackers 2005).

Some researchers are mobile some of the time, whilst for others, moving has become a routine part of their life and they are constantly mobile around the world. In this perspective, the nation-state is not seen as either losing or attracting mobile researchers. Neither is the mobile researcher positioned as being either settled or on the move. Such either/or categorizations are seen as inadequate since the understandings of “home and away” have become increasingly complex (Teferra, 2005 230). While early stage researchers are often encouraged to engage in international mobility to increase career prospects, some authors (Ackers 2008; Lawson and Shibayama 2013) have argued that – in the context of the change of academic careers and trajectories – scientific mobility appears increasingly detached from its original objectives and can be better viewed as a compulsory career step, often with uncertain benefits on career progression (Cruz-Castro and Sanz-Menendez, 2010).

A proposal for an alternative framework

In order to make sense of the complex assemblage of political agendas, policy initiatives and personal experiences around scientific mobility, an alternative approach[i] can be developed following Cresswell’s work about the politics of mobility (2010). Cresswell defines mobility as the entanglement of three dimensions: movement, representation, and practice; movement is the fact of physical movement getting from one place to another; representation of movement is what gives it a shared meaning; and, finally, practice refers to the experienced and embodied practice of movement (ibid. p. 19).

The movement dimension – corresponding to the analysis of the fluxes of “movers” and their features (age, gender, nationality, stage of career, disciplines…) – has been widely investigated by the scientific literature on the topic. The practice dimension – corresponding to the analysis of the professional, social and political practices related with being a mobile researcher – although less often than the previous one, has also been a subject for investigation; to some extent, its combination with analyses about movement is at the basis of the policy approach of the push and pull factors. The representation dimension – exploring for example how mobility is discursively and materially constituted, what narratives have been constructed about mobility, how are mobilities represented in public discourse – appears instead largely neglected in the case of scientific mobility.

Cresswell (2010) reminds that just as there has been a multitude of efforts to measure and model mobility so there has been a plethora of representations of mobility: as adventure, as condemn, as education, as freedom, as modern, as threatening – each of them almost “naturally” associated to a different social phenomena involving some kind of moving.

Exploring representation and practices of scientific mobility

While I think that it would be particularly valuable to develop an analysis that reconnects and simultaneously addresses all three levels, I am particularly interested in exploring the intersection between representation and practice. The reason for this arises from the simple fact that, sometimes, mobile practices conform to the representations that surround them, while at other times there is a dissonance between representation and practice.

In an article about mobility practices of Italian early stage researchers (Carrozza and Minucci, forthcoming) we noted how the use of the term “mobility” was frequently associated to a universe of meanings different from those associated with the notion of “emigration”. On the one side, when asked about their opinion on scientific mobility in general, respondents recalled the rhetoric of the European research policies (defining mobility as a right, as the freedom to build a satisfying career by gathering professional and personal experiences in different workplaces and cultures, as a source of value for both the researcher and the European society as a whole); on the other, they often contradicted this framing when asked to talk about their personal experience, struggling to recognize the traits of what they understand to be “mobility” in their own situation.

Of course, these findings need to be contextualized by considering the well-known weaknesses of the Italian research system and labour market, where our respondents are trying (or tried in the past, before moving somewhere else) to build up an academic career. However, this is not the point. The point is – or might be – that both the idea and the lived experience of mobility, although largely dissonant in the case of our respondents, are both real: scientific mobility exists beyond the experience of academic migration.

In this respect, even if this requires a detour from the usual paths of scientific mobility’s research, connecting the two dimensions of representation and practice can further our understanding of the power of the European discourse on scientific mobility – as well as into its inherent contradictions – and offer us a way to explore mobility as one of the grand ideas of the Europe of Knowledge.

Chiara Carrozza is post-doctoral research fellow at the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, Portugal. She adopts interpretive approaches to policy analysis, and works on the co-evolution between knowledge production and governance production. She is interested in research practices and the meanings and values conveyed by policy discourses about research and technology. She has recently published in the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, Higher Education Policy (in press), Critical Policy Studies (in press).


This post follows a presentation given at the panel The ‘big’ ideas in the Europe of Knowledge, at the ECPR General Conference held in Glasgow, 3-6 September 2014. I would like to thank the discussant Meng-Hsuan Chou, for the interesting and valuable comments on the presentation, as well as the other presenters and the audience of the panel.


This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.



Ackers, L. (2005) ‘Promoting scientific mobility and balanced growth in the European Research Area’, Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 18(3): 301-17.

Ackers, L. (2008) ‘Internationalisation, mobility and metrics: A new form of indirect discrimination?’, Minerva 46(4): 411–435.

Cantwell, B. (2011) ‘Transnational Mobility and International Academic Employment: Gatekeeping in an Academic Competition Arena’, Minerva 49: 425–445.

Carrozza, C. and Minucci, S. (forthcoming), ‘Keep on movin’? Research mobility’s meanings for Italian early stage researchers’, Higher Education Policy.

Cresswell, T. (2010), ‘Towards a politics of mobility’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28(1):17–31.

Cruz-Castro, L. and Sanz-Menendez, L. (2010) ‘Mobility vs. job stability: Assessing tenure and productivity outcomes’, Research Policy 39(1): 27-38.

Deloitte Consulting (2014), The Researchers’ Report 2014. Final Report, available at

Ivancheva, L. and Gourova, E. (2011) ‘Challenges for career and mobility of researchers in Europe’, Science and Public Policy 38(3): 185–98.

Lawson, C. and Shibayama, S., (2013), ‘Temporary Mobility. A Policy for Academic Career Development’, Working Paper 21/13, Cognetti de Martiis, Dept. of Economics and Statistics, or

Robertson, S.L. (2010) Critical response to Special Section: international academic mobility, published by the Centre for Globalisation, Education and Societies, University of Bristol, Bristol BS81JA, UK at:

Teferra, D. (2005) ‘Brain Circulation: Unparalleled Opportunities, Underlying Challenges, and Outmoded Presumptions’, Journal of Studies in International Education 9 (3): 229–250.

[i] This work in progress is being developed in collaboration with Tiago Santos Pereira at the Centre for Social Studies (CES) of the University of Coimbra.