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Renting Valuable Assets: Knowledge and Value Production in Academic Science

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Original languageEnglish
JournalScience, Technology and Human Values
Accepted/In press2 Feb 2020

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Abstract

This paper explores what it takes for research laboratories to produce valuable knowledge in academic institutions marked by the coexistence of multiple evaluative frameworks. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork carried out in two UK-based epigenetics research laboratories, I examine the set of practices through which research groups intertwine knowledge production with the making of scientific, health and wealth value. This includes building and maintaining a portfolio of valuable resources, such as expertise, scientific credibility or data and turning these resources into assets by carefully organising and managing their value. Laboratories then put these assets to productive use within and outside their labs towards the creation or extraction of value. I identify two models for producing value within academic science: a commodity-based model whereby laboratories mobilise their assets to produce results, which can be converted into publications for the accumulation of credibility capital; and a rentier model of accumulation, whereby laboratories own valuable assets, which they rent out to others outside their lab against a revenue. Following recent developments in STS on value production in the bioeconomy, I argue that the concepts of asset and rent are essential analytical tools to get to grips with the origins of value within academic science.

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