Variants of Epistemic Capitalism: Knowledge Production and the Accumulation of Worth in Commercial Biotechnology and the Academic Life Sciences
Science, Technology, and Human Values 41 (5):922-948 (2016)
AbstractCapitalist dynamics in knowledge production are not limited to situations in which economic interests influence researchers’ practices. Building on laboratory studies and the French “pragmatic” tradition in sociology, this article proposes an approach to tackle more pervasive capitalist logics at work in contemporary research and their consequences. It uses the term epistemic capitalism to denote the accumulation of capital, as worth made durable, through the act of doing research, in and beyond academia. In doing so, it conceptualizes capitalism primarily not as a system of circulation and accumulation of monetary value but rather as a cultural way of producing, attributing, and accumulating specific forms of worth, which need not be monetary. Empirically, the article studies variants in epistemic capitalism by addressing the differing role of the accumulation of different forms of capital and the regimes connected to it in two institutional settings in Austria, academic life science laboratories and biotechnology start-up companies. Concluding, it argues that analytically dissociating the concept of capitalism from its link to economic value allows a finer-grained cultural analysis of the importance and effects of processes of accumulation in contemporary research. It ends with discussing the normative implications of these findings for debates about the commercialization of academia.
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