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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Beyond Technocracy: Politics and Policies of Knowledge and Innovation in Times of Populism

Public Policy
Inga Ulnicane
De Montfort University
Inga Ulnicane
De Montfort University

This paper aims to analyse implications of the recent rise of populism for politics and policies of knowledge and innovation. This policy area has traditionally been seen as technocratic and oriented towards the most efficient allocation of resources for knowledge production. However, spread of populism presents new challenges to this policy area. Populist ideology considers society to be organized into two antagonistic groups of ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’ and argues that politics should be an expression of general will of the people (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017). This presents new challenges for social contract of science and legitimacy of continuous public support for knowledge and innovation policies. This paper aims to make a conceptual contribution to studies of relationship between politics and knowledge production by integrating concepts and approaches from science, technology and innovation policy studies, sociology of science, Science and Technology Studies, and studies of populism.

Especially it analyses potential effects of populism on ‘input’ and ‘output’ legitimacy of knowledge and innovation policies. While ‘input legitimacy’ refers to involvement of society in decision-making, ‘output legitimacy’ focusses on the effectiveness of outcomes. Traditionally policies for knowledge and innovation have been primarily concerned with output legitimacy to ensure efficiency of outcomes; however, in times of populism both input and output legitimacy of this policy area can be revisited. In terms of input legitimacy, populism requires to seek new forms of engaging with citizens and taking into account their views when designing knowledge and innovation policies. For output legitimacy, populism demands going beyond efficiency and wealth creation and to find novel forms of defining and evaluating outcomes in terms of addressing societal challenges. Thus, populism can present not only challenges (regarding scientific autonomy, freedom, disregard of scientific expertise, etc) but also opportunities for this policy area to make it more democratic and responsive to citizens’ needs. In such a way, knowledge and innovation policies can experience not only negative but also positive effects that populism can have on liberal democracy; these, according to Mudde and Kaltwasser (2017) can include giving voice to groups that do not feel represented by the elite, mobilize excluded sectors of society and integrate them into decision-making, which then could become more responsive to diverse societal needs and can increase democratic accountability. Thus, one of the key challenges for knowledge and innovation policies in times of populism is to find a socially beneficial way of integrating societal concerns so that they facilitate excellent and relevant knowledge production.
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