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Knowledge and Innovation conducts activities within a research tradition that cuts across different disciplines, focusing on the governance of social processes through the development of appropriate policies, the role of participatory dynamics in science, and the links between production of new knowledge and innovation, maintaining constant its commitment to theoretical and epistemological research.

These elements are increasingly important in the way in which scientific knowledge is produced today, marked by a difficult, and in some ways controversial transition to so-called post-academic research.

Knowledge and Innovation’s general research program includes both basic and applied research activities.

The research program

The research program focuses on the study and understanding of the broad and profound transformation processes occurring in contemporary societies, which often involve complex energy, digital, urban, epidemiological or demographic transitions. Social, political, technological and cultural dynamics are often closely intertwined (in certain cases almost indistinguishable). These processes are primarily associated with the increased weight of social subjectivity, and therefore with the greater autonomy and capacity for action of individuals and social actors (thanks also to new technologies), operating in a context that sees the parallel weakening of the constraints and structures that give substance and form to society as a whole.

Particular attention is devoted to the critical steps that accompany this overall phenomenon, marked by situations of great “evolutionary stress”.

Very intense and often rapid social dynamics evolve in a non-linear fashion, and are sometimes ambiguous in meaning and conflicting in terms of characteristics, outcomes and potential impacts. Examples include interactions between science, technology and society, gender relations, the impact of the virtual dimension in daily life, new ways of constructing personal and collective identities (such as those linked to religion), on-going urbanization, and the evolution of political and administrative structures in national states.

The research program also includes a broad area of reflection on the capacity of human and social sciences, and especially sociology, to effectively address this complexity, conducted through interdisciplinary research on the different epistemological, theoretical and methodological instruments available to these sciences.

Basic research

In recent years, basic research conducted by Knowledge and Innovation has focused on two spheres of action.

The first is the study of the processes involved in the gradual “socialization” of new areas of reality opened up by scientific and technological progress, which are increasingly subject to human intervention. Examples include: bio-chemical processes, cognitive and affective processes, the expansion of the digital world, genomics, the creation of new nanoscale artefacts. There are two main aims: to understand how this progressive expansion of the possibilities of human action is managed socially and how it affects social life (and how it is, in turn, affected); to conduct a critical review of the consolidated representations of the relations between nature and culture (challenged, for example, by the increasing use of artefacts implanted in the human body), between psycho-physical phenomena and social processes (for example, the increased importance attached to emotions and collective representations in political or economic dimensions), and between mind and society (such as the interactions between methods of knowledge production and the multiplicity of web-based social interactions).

The second sphere of activity focuses on themes of an epistemological and methodological nature, such as: the conditions that can aid the advancement of interdisciplinary research (from the perspective of a single field of science), so as to produce a confluence of different epistemological approaches; new study methods made possible by the use of big data; the development of improved qualitative data processing methodologies; the interactions between quality and quantity; the predictive capacities of the social sciences.

Applied research

In the above context, applied research makes a vital contribution, since it allows for a direct analysis of the transformation phenomena producing the most pronounced social stress situations, due to their widespread nature, the dimensions they acquire, or their medium and long-term implications.

Some of the most studied phenomena include:

•  the complex and now pervasive interactions between science, technology and society, both in general and, more specifically, in fields wrongly assumed to be relatively unaffected by social dynamics, such as, the biosciences and material sciences;
•  the aforementioned transition processes on a global scale, such as those tending towards forms of sustainable energy, which are bringing into question consolidated lifestyles, patterns of production and social and decision-making mechanisms;
•  the production of new tensions,driven by technological progress, between equally widespread and powerful but conflicting social demands, such as those between privacy and surveillance, between privacy and self-exposure (opinions, feelings, intimacies or one’s own body, for example through social networks) or between surveillance and human rights;

•  progressive changes in gender relations in the wake of a growing appetite for social equality, which, however, come up against strong and unexpected resistance,even in social sectors that are apparently most open to change;
•  the processes of change that are affecting science and technology research organizations, due to increasing and complex interactions with ever broadersectors of society;
•  complexifications of poverty, of mechanisms leading to impoverishment or social exclusion, of international migrations and development dynamics, which can blur distinctions between phenomena that may even be very different, and in which social factors play an ever greater role;
•  the emergence of new forms of governance in contemporary societies in areas such as law enforcement, welfare facilities and civil defence, in a more general (and often painful) context of the transformation of traditional institutions of political representation and public administration.

Applied research activities are conducted through projects that closely tie the production of new knowledge to real actions, such as: training, evaluation, technical assistance for projects involving social development or institutional change, science communication, consultancy, as well as the production of guidelines and other tools that can help set new policies or change existing ones.

Projects

Title: Resource Tool to support the adoption of equality-oriented strategies and measures.
Acronym: ESCMID3
Contents: The project, funded by European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, was aimed at designing and developing a web-based resource tool addressing the issues of inequality (grounded on, e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation) in order to help ESCMID members to promote equality-oriented strategies and measures in their own working environment (hospitals, research centres, university departments, etc.).

Title: Study on CM/ID professional mobility and potential inequality profiles
Acronym: ESCMID4
Contents: The project, funded by European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, is aimed at generating new knowledge about size, features and impacts of intra-European mobility of health professionals, with special attention to clinical microbiologists and infectious diseases professionals, also in order to verify presence and features of inequality dynamics affecting expatriate professionals.