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The politicization of knowledge policies – the Portuguese case

Institutions
Policy Analysis
Critical Theory
Education
Margarida Lopes
Centro de Investigação em Sociologia Económica e das Organizações - SOCIUS - CSG, Lisbon University
Margarida Lopes
Centro de Investigação em Sociologia Económica e das Organizações - SOCIUS - CSG, Lisbon University
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Abstract

The development of knowledge in Portugal progressed slowly and developed later than in other European countries. This was due to a succession of political determinants: 1 - a 40 years dictatorship for which education and knowledge were but a privilege for the elites; 2 - the democratization, in the 70´s, which major educational goal, overall accessibility, was condemned by a severe lack of resources; 3 - the move towards integration into European Community which preparation brought about both a regular meaningful funding inflow and a progressive approach towards scientific policy; 4 - a strong neoliberal influence, coming with the new millennium, which imposed drastic cuts in science and R&D funding and led to a severe cutback in the achievements of the previous phase. The left wing coalition which won the Portuguese elections last October, intends to give a strong impulse to S&T and R&D policies. Nevertheless, contingency and restrictions are severe, as the absence of a sustainable knowledge infrastructure and the ever present lack of financial resources, among other. The need for a robust regulation of the Portuguese knowledge system and science policies becomes obvious, a role which can only be adequately played by government. The previous executive, a rightist coalition strongly influenced by neoliberal ideas, opened the door to external impositions decided by EC, IMF and other international institutions upon knowledge policies, such as financial austerity, the exacerbation of international competitiveness and global homogenization of knowledge. Internally those trends reflected into the main institution for knowledge development: FCT. By bureaucratizing the mode of submitting research projects, by restringing the rules and eligibility conditions for appliance to funding and fellowships and by systematically rating higher the research projects – mostly from Engineering and Life Sciences - which developed around a partnership with multinational firms, FCT led to a ranking of scientific domains which condemned research centers and labs not directly aligned with “official knowledge”. A central question then arises: how is it possible that so drastic changes happen in the R&D and knowledge systems whenever there is a change in the Portuguese government? The main area of instability in R&D and knowledge policies is the regulation process and the role that government actually plays in it. The various conflicts of interests that have to be managed become politically and ideologically reinforced by governments’ rotation which lead to systematic discontinuity in knowledge institutions’ action and to disruption in scientific policies. The main reason for that is, in our opinion, the absence of a strategy for knowledge advancement in the Portuguese society which has been preventing the design and implementation of a sustainable knowledge development policy. I will try to shed light into this conviction on the grounds of the contributions provided mostly by critical theories and neo institutional approaches on knowledge development.