PERIPHERIES, FRONTIERS AND BEYOND

This conference aims to stimulate reflection on the challenges posed to S&T indicator development and use in geographical, cognitive or social spaces that are peripheral or marginal to the centres of economic, scientific or technological activity. The focus is also on emerging areas of research and innovation that are inadequately described by existing, quantitative or qualitative indicators.

We propose to identify, describe and analyse the problems that emerge in situations and spaces where indicators are used beyond their scope of validity. The conference aims to offer an international platform to propose, and discuss, alternative approaches and indicators.

The conference will consider both weak (technical) and strong (socio-political) notions of periphery. The weak notion understands peripheries as areas that are not adequately covered or targeted by current indicators. The main concern here is the existence of indicator biases; the challenge lies in developing approaches and indicators that provide a more accurate or valid representation of science, technology and innovation activities.

The strong notion sees the periphery as composed by those having a lower status in an unequal or dependent relationship. It is therefore a relational concept in a situation that involves structural unequal access to resources. According to this view, peripheries tend to remain as such unless determined efforts to change their situation are undertaken and the use of indicators may contribute to build and sustain peripheral situations. The strong notion of periphery underlines the performative nature of indicators; that is, their capacity to shape reality.

The conference will consider various types of peripheral spaces. In the global economy, some geographical regions are often conceived as peripheral. Developing countries were long ago described as “the” periphery, but within every geographical territory we can also encounter peripheral zones (Southern European and Eastern European countries as peripheral to the European Union, poor regions are peripheral to the capital and richer regions within a country, etcetera). Specific problems also emerge in regions that undergo socio-economic transitions and are in need of implementing alternative (re)development strategies, in particular in relation to sustainability.

We can also refer to peripheral social groups: the disenfranchised, the poor, or perhaps the elderly. Research and innovation conducted in these spaces may require different types of indicators from the ones we are accustomed to use. There are also cognitive peripheries: areas of research that do not capture the attention of mainstream politicians and receive more limited resources. For example, many fields in the humanities could be considered a peripheral when compared to the mainstream natural sciences or engineering.

Each of these peripheries has their own knowledge generation and application systems and may be better analysed using tailored indicators, some of which can be of a qualitative rather than quantitative nature. However, analysts often face resource limitations to develop indicators tailored to the peculiarities of their context and are confronted with the potential use of conventional indicators –which are not fully suited to reflect these contexts. The use of such indicators may result in inadequate analysis and unintended effects.

The conference aims to be a platform to reflect on the potential causes and effects of indicators usage in peripheral spaces: in mobility and internationalisation, reduction of thematic diversity and alignment or misalignment with local societal needs.