50 years of research and innovation policies


50 years of public strategies for Research and Innovation in France: the three stages of weakening political regulation.

Voilà! The Assises of Higher Education and Research, a promise of the candidate François Hollande to the Presidency of the Republic, were held until November 26th and 27th, the time of the synthesis made by Professor Vincent Berger. He then wrote a Report to the President of the Republic, who will ask the Government to translate it into a bill that will be submitted to Parliament next spring, in whole or in part, from the proposals it contains.

The loop is almost complete, ... smoothly conducted! The two main topics in the form of objectives debated throughout the autumn of 2012 are well known: the success of students by improving all the conditions that can contribute to it; the functioning of the higher education and research system, therefore simplified and coherent, at the service of actors who have been requinquished, re-legitimized and cooperating. All that remains to be done is to wait ...

compass and funding2Here, we will focus strictly on the subject of Research and Innovation by formulating the following questions from the outset. Does the reform of systems, devices, organisations,... exhaust all the ambition that could be nurtured for these important areas of public action? More precisely, if pragmatism and realism are necessary to give all actors bureaucratic environments adapted to their work, since this is what it is all about, should these areas be exempted from a course of Nation or a vision of Society? All this has perhaps not escaped the promoters of the Assizes. But, in this matter, collective reflection is negligent...

Nation, Society,... In our opinion, it is necessary to move away from administrative or sociological sciences, or even management studies, which have played a (too) important role in the direct or indirect steering of public research and innovation policies for the past 20 years in France, and to borrow from tools - although not very rich! - of contemporary political science. And above all, above all, we need to take a step back! Therefore, we invite the reader to explore with us the period 1960-2010, i.e. the last 50 years.

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This article will therefore attempt to shed light on the question of overall political regulation, or its absence, in relation to the major public choices relating to knowledge, science, research and innovation in France over the last 50 years. It is intended as a contribution to the political debate which we consider necessary and which calls for other contributions to feed it.


The organization of things - that is to say, the devices or systems that are developed for their operation - refers to an almost mechanical, mechanical, apparently neutral type of logic. However, it is a matter of "governmentality" (in the sense Michel Foucault gave it: a way of exercising power) which is desired, consciously or not, in the environment under consideration; in other words, it is a matter of authority or power within the field under consideration, of balances and responsibilities, associated or not, between the actors involved.

I start from the assumption that the way power is exercised is either a Pact transcended by a political guarantee and signed between citizens, or a Contract worked by political mechanisms and signed between actors, or the absence of a Pact or a Contract. From this point of view, I would like to show in broad outline that in France, over the last half-century, we have moved from the foundation of a National Pact to the option of a Partnership Contract, towards, finally, the weakening of political regulation. And that, all things being unequal, this dynamic has affected our links with knowledge, knowledge, science, research, innovation and, more generally, collective actions, with their transmitters and receivers as well.

In my opinion, three main stages characterize this path.

So let's go back to the 1960s

degaullelibreThe course initiated by Charles de Gaulle, in other words the political guarantee, was "La France, par l'indépendance" (a course partially prefigured by the action of Pierre Mendès France). The entire research and innovation system then began to breathe from this national narrative and to specify its organizational configuration (CEA, INRA, CNES, CNET, ...): the French bomb, agricultural power, autonomous access to space, telecom' infrastructures of general interest.... One can speak at those times of a DNRI and SNRI . Pact between the army and the nation. Pact between the peasant and the nation. Pact between research and the nation. The Pact is a collective trust granted in the form of an intellectual, moral and practical delegation.

scholarThe nation then relied on the authority of what has since been called technoscience, co-creator of highly political markets of general interest, and not on the power of private economic markets, residual in its "embodiment". The scientist-engineer couple, at the heart of the authority of technoscience, led the way and the State guaranteed the national project. The temporal and spatial projection was strong.

The knowledge of the scientists and the know-how of the engineers were attached to the long time, that of the nation. They were disseminated, transmitted and expected as an important source of individual and collective emancipation. It was prestigious to be a scholar rather than a researcher, no doubt because the price of "the" science justified authorized guardians. The citizen was still invoked at the time, and the "public" was not yet entitled to semantic existence in the fields of "science" and "research and development".

financementsciencesLet's now turn to the 1980s

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The course initiated by François Mitterrand, subsidiary to the course initiated by de Gaulle, was less explicit, but clear nonetheless. It was more of a political project calling for players to enter into a contract: "France by opening up to its companies and to Europe". It was the moment of a transition that did not say its name between "making a nation" and "making a society". A transition between a trust delegated to authorities and an operational sharing of power. No more imposed transcendence but a search for regulation between the three main "actors" in the fields we are concerned with: public civil and defence research, companies and the so-called civil society. In other words, this transition made the question of the place of articulation between scholarly regulation, market regulation and citizen regulation "the" most important tacit question; and the choice of this place is nothing other than political. Our DNRI, in the 1980s, more or less operated and metabolized this "transition".

For the most part, let us remember that the CIR (the biggest tax incentive ever imagined in France) was set up; that all research organisations worked on the valorisation of research to make the link between fundamental and applied research and business innovation; that a European policy worthy of the name was defined; and that the first consultations on the regional or territorial dimension of research policies were held.

The Gallic Pact around scientific research then began to lose its marks; our country's entry into the world's major consumer markets gained increasing weight. So-called industrial or private research exceeded public research in current monetary value. The authority of the scientist-engineer couple was quickly captured by the expert engineer couple. As for citizen regulation, it was only just emerging: indeed, one speaks in its name when one invokes "social demand" all the time. The SNRIs are now struggling to emerge from a National Pact that is running out of steam. Carried away by a "de facto market regulation", they will mark a three-sided intention for public action:
- still national around the strategies initiated by the major programmes of Cape Gaullian;
- subsidiary European (and sub-national too, but slowly emerging),
- increasingly accompanying the short and medium-term strategies of major French companies.
In short, the political narrative began to search for itself, and the projection suffered as a result.

fetescienceThis is the time when scientific knowledge is beginning to be honoured on the basis of its economic rather than civic or political usefulness; we feel the need to strengthen its dissemination, so we create the "Science en Fête". Research is beginning to be questioned from two different points of view: that of its "innovative" aims and, to a lesser extent, that of its social aims. But, at the more general level of collective representations, scientists are fading out in front of researchers; at the same time, researchers are being confused with innovators, inventors or engineers; the aura of "knowledge", especially scientific knowledge, is giving way to the services rendered by theoretical and practical knowledge, in other words, to knowledge, know-how and skills; finally, the exaltation of national sentiment (of the common project) recedes in the face of the demands of democratic and territorialized sociability (of "living together") and, as a result, the city in front of the public space and the citizen in front of the public.

The 1990s and 2000, finally, with two successive phases

nationeuropean* The Mitterrandian cape sinks into the mists in the 90s, and no cape initiated by Jacques Chirac ! Lack of course, breakdown...? "Make nation"? "Make society" ? The question posed by this transition was then neither assumed nor denied, and, in fact, not understood. Our country did not make any explicit choice, it let it be said and done. No distinction was made between breathing new life into the French nation (a nation in Europe and the world), establishing modern forms of French society, contributing to the formation of a European society or aiming to "make a European nation".

Thus, the 1990s marked the loss of vigour of the national narrative at a time when the will for a European project was still strong: it is therefore the narrative of a so-called Europe of knowledge that has taken over and is imposing the decisive direction.

knowledgeLet's be more specific because this is important. In fact, we are putting forward a European national narrative embedded in a general and territorialised discourse on knowledge, but it is a project for a European society based on competences, knowledge and territories that will in fact be proposed at the Lisbon Summit in 2000. The fact remains that this course... is rapidly taking a turn for the worse. Why is this happening? Because the national states in Europe are no longer promoting either a European state or even a federation of nation-states with a view to a European nation. The power of legitimacy is fading in the face of the power of market regulation. It only accompanies the movement by "sanctifying" fundamental research as it can (see the creation of the ERC). However, this market regulation, stimulated by the violence of global economic competition, will begin to be exercised by imagining at most to build "knowledge economies" and, at the very least, to make ... the knowledge economy.

The scientist-engineer couple is out of the game. The engineer-engineer couple was only transient. The expert-financial couple took over. And for a long time. And they don't care about "knowledge". The power of the technomarket has subdued the authority of technoscience. I will explain this.

* An economic-type narrative aimed at mobilizing the French space as part of the global market society accompanies the 2000s, even today! No longer the course, but also no longer the "European national narrative embedded in a general and territorialized discourse on knowledge" of the 1990s. No more political guarantees! Basically, at the current end of this movement, it is no longer a question of "making a nation" or "making a society". It is time for a new transition between "making society" and "being part of the global market society".

The French CIR (research tax credit), which is massively endowed, is increasingly appreciated by the financial departments of large French companies and praised by transnational companies. In this context, where the logic of tax optimisation is gaining strength, the managerial injunction to excellence in all areas of public research is merely relaying the sole concern for managerial efficiency announced in the now famous RGPP (general revision of public policies). Henceforth, all possible groupings, polarisations and incentives likely to generate economies of scale within the DNRI will be encouraged. Downstream competitiveness clusters. Upstream research and higher education clusters (PRES). Not to mention the numerous procedures that accompany them (LabEX, IdEX,...). National Research Agency (ANR). Research and Higher Education Evaluation Agency (AERES). In short, public research is more or less becoming the adjustment variable of the system that was precisely embodied in the Research Programme Law (2006)!

mconnaissanceKnowledge was the very object of Promethean projection under the authority of a world to be built. The globalized technomarket does not care about this: infinite procedural action in a whirlwind of seemingly anomalous techno-economic flows, that is what it is all about! All it has to do is to "serve" the technosciences, essentially knowledge and practices with a strong prescriptive capacity; it therefore draws on economics, management, law and marketing, and relegates other knowledge, especially knowledge with a de-normalizing capacity (the humanities and human sciences), and also knowledge with a descriptive capacity of social significance. But what is new is that it also neglects the sciences themselves (physics, chemistry, biology) when they do not directly serve its logic.

Soon, the landscape could be made only of functional segmentation knowledge, on the way to "destination" and "act" know-how, or " embedded" as they sometimes say. Researchers in companies are more and more difficult to find: from engineers, they are becoming methodologists, resources of expertise, advice, and even marketers. Researchers in public institutions, on the other hand, are unable to do so, but they are sometimes "transferred" to become technicians with skills that are sometimes considered a priori substitutable. Citizen regulation, which could have relied on scholarly regulation to counterbalance the totalizing vision of the technomarket, still lacks consistency. Finally, the public becomes a divisible receiver in particular, a sort of integral of identical parts, invited then, part by part, to access pre-constituted knowledge.

Moment of synthesis...

goodsIn 50 years, there have been three successive stages that have marked the governmentality, the way power is exercised and the fields of Research and Innovation in France: government by legitimacy, government by standards, government by monetary equivalence. This dynamic reflects the more or less conscious weakening of political regulation. No more National Pact where legitimacy is de facto delegated to authorities! No more Political Contract that regulates by norms the power of the actors of a society (French or European)! Towards a management of resources and commodified actions within a more or less anomic space?

Does this weakening of political regulation betray, moreover, a depoliticization that serves the public interest and perhaps even the general interest?

donquichotte-picassoThe nation and society share a common challenge: to create "us". But clearly, this is not the same "us". The national "we" expects above all the cement of patient and anonymous commitment to be shared, in a word, symbolization. The social/societal "we" expects above all the effectiveness of recurrent communication between individuals and groups capable of sharing through exchange. The two movements do not offer the same narrative and therefore do not produce the same "we". As for the market society, the third movement, it does not create a "we". It dissolves them. So, if I had to accentuate the line - and I will - I would gladly say that, in the fields of Research and Innovation :

- the nation promotes the author, the authoritative: the scholar, the citizen; it seeks unity by pretending to permanently repair an initial separation: it does so through knowledge as co-emergence, therefore as a source of symbolic alliance; it is built in the incompleteness and in the transmission of knowledge between generations (nation/knowledge, same root), ... In short, the nation is built by breaking with the cultural new, therefore from the outset incomparable!

- society promotes the actor, the one who (authorises) himself: the researcher, the public; it seeks conciliation by organising social and territorial relations through the communication of information rather than through symbolisation; it is exercised in the individualisation of access to information, in the formation of more or less perennial knowledge communities .... In short, society is constantly being built on the cultural comparability of the "already there" between social territories!

- the market society promotes the agent, the one who acts and is acted upon: the competent, the consumer; it seeks the optimization of any set of acts by combining efficient resources in any market. It achieves this more and more through the algorithmisation of information. In short, the market society does not construct anything: it mixes, simplifies, makes equivalent; it generates cultural substitutability and dissolution by monetary means! In fact, where are we today?

contractorThe globalized technomarket has engaged in an as yet little-known competition between entrepreneurial and financial logics, which, on the whole, have been fighting the latter more than they have served them for more than 20 years. Since then, however, we have been quite incapable of understanding and considering this new landscape in terms of its indirect, but very real and powerful, effects on the configuration of innovation and research, and their difficulties, in France and in Europe.

The projection is almost absent. Horizon: present. Innovation, or so-called industrial research when its epistemology is oversimplified, has been stagnating for 10 years in Europe despite the considerable public efforts that have been made to stimulate it and the proclaimed intentions of the famous Lisbon Strategy. The impressive power of action of market finance, which no longer performs a speculative function useful to economic development, is not in vain in this difficulty: It makes the commodification, innovation, research, symbolisation and metabolisation that cements them together upstream and downstream vulnerable in reverse... Excessively standardised, left unconscious, actions then become economic agendas of an eternal present, in other words things that must be done by agents who are now prey to an idolatrous approach, deprived of subjectivity and associativity.

...and opening.

What are "political possibilities" today?

To give a new lease of life to the French nation in Europe and the world? To give modern forms to French society? Contributing to the formation of a European society ? Aiming to "make a European nation"? To allow a French space to emerge from the (European or global) market society, or, finally, to count on a European space in the global market society? These multiple choices can no longer be so contrasting, but a certain voluntary play of the cursor is possible.

Let us continue, but let the reader authorize us from now on to make a statement that is more prescriptive than descriptive, of conviction!

horizon2020With regard to the Commission's new European strategy, known as "Horizon 2020", it risks being moribund from the outset if, in its R, D and I dimension, it were to continue to mortify the States for a very real impotence,... but which it is incapable of qualifying, for lack of a thorough political analysis! Now, public policies at European level have only one meta-objective to pursue, but a major one: to promote European political union. In this perspective, R&I policies should be the collective laboratory of what we envisage behind this expression "political union", a debate that is today very insufficiently controversial! Here are, for the example to be discussed, the two axes that should, in our opinion, guide this political union:

equal opportunities2- Aiming for equal opportunities for all Europeans and all their territories: this would imply fighting as a matter of priority against the ever-increasing spatial polarisation of resources and wealth of all kinds (cf. the "reinforced blue banana", an area stretching from Rotterdam to Milan via Frankfurt and Munich, which contrasts with the rest of Europe, the future continental desert!), and as far as our subject is concerned, to fight, in particular, against the economic concentration of research and especially innovation resources, a real insult to the future of the different peoples, cultures and individuals in Europe, and therefore an invisible machine of future political disunity!

sustainable development2- aim for the long term (insofar as almost all non-public actors are exclusively responsible for the short and very short term) by marking, including on the face of the world, a "new preference for the future" affirmed in a model of sustainable, human, modern and solidarity-based development! Now, is it not the role of R&I policies (of fundamental or finalised research) to strongly inspire this path and to contribute to prefiguring it ("in itself" naturally, but also within all the other policies of the European Union, whether the competences of these other policies are exclusive, shared or simply supportive)?

So we still have a choice, as long as we repoliticize our choices! So, let us not let the only forces of the agenda "choose"! Choices are to be sought in a conscious articulation between nation, society and a particular market society, between their respective narratives, or in their overcoming. Political reflection is essential to present the characteristics of a conscious, sustainable and democratically debated arbitration between their emblematic figures, that of the author, the actor and the agent. The intellectual research community has an eminent responsibility to shed light on such a debate.

Therefore, the Conference on Higher Education and Research must assume its extension in a political controversy related to these major public choices that shape and direct the future of our countries ...!

About Jean-Paul Karsenty

karsentyJean-Paul Karsenty is an economist by training. Sometimes he presents himself as a prospectivist, sometimes as a technocrat, and sometimes as a specialist in generalities or transversality, depending on the situation. In other words, he regularly frequents several worlds.
In fact, within several French public institutions, and for more than 35 years, he has worked to analyze issues of general interest and to shape public policies: in their economic, of course, as well as in their technical and strategic dimensions; both from the point of view of their anticipation and their evaluation. He has thus had to reflect on questions of industrial policy, regional planning, transport and energy, defence and security, education and, above all, scientific research and innovation.
In particular, he was the co-founder of the Eureka project in 1985, then Secretary General of the Conseil Supérieur de la Recherche et de la Technologie (CSRT) between 1989 and 1996.

In 2005, he joined the Alexandre Koyré Centre for Research in the History of Science and Technology, then in 2012 the Centre d'Etudes des Techniques, des Connaissances et des Pratiques (Cetcopra) of the University of Paris 1.
It also participates in the life of many associations of general interest..


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