Toronto Workshop 2013

Public Policy, Commercialization & Neoliberal Technoscience

Date: 9-10th December 2013
Location: York University, Toronto, Canada
Organizers: Kean Birch and David Tyfield


‘Science’ is increasingly tasked with kick-starting the moribund economy, underpinning a new techno-economic paradigm, while tackling multiple, overlapping global challenges (e.g. climate change, food security, low-carbon transition). However, the cultural and political role of science, the political economy of its funding and the impacts of technoscientific innovation are all highly contested. How science and innovation can and do contribute to economic growth and solving global challenges are not clearly understood and, conversely, it is clear that the current dominant policy understanding of these relations is inadequate on at least four fronts.

First, the so-called ‘linear model’ of innovation persists as the basis of most current science policies even as it has been comprehensively dismantled by social and economic studies of science and innovation. Second, the globalization of research and innovation contradicts the national focus of much science policy with the emergence of global innovation networks, international science collaborations and mass, distributed open innovation and open science initiatives. Third, the inadequacy of current understanding of the political economy of scientific research is especially evident regarding the global challenges since many are ‘wicked’ problems that defy resolution through techno-fixes. Finally, the commodification, commercialization and privatization of scientific research have been key pillars of the dominant political-economic project of neoliberalism.

Regarding this last issue in particular, neoliberal globalization is in crisis with significant backlash against ‘free markets’ and a groundswell of political opinion calling for ‘responsible capitalism’. These trends profoundly challenge the IP-intensive, neoliberal global model of science-based innovation that has dominated in recent years. Yet, notwithstanding these trends in the broader political economy, the neoliberalization of science in the global North is proceeding at an undiminished, if not accelerated, pace. The changing relations of scientific research, innovation and political economy are thus a key site for the investigation of the future of technoscience in terms of its contribution to socio-economic development and the public accountability of scientists and policymakers.

Key Questions

  1. These issues form the basis for a two-day workshop to be held at York University, Toronto, which will seek to address four broad questions:Why do simple scientific and innovation narratives have such political and policy power?
  2. How do public policies, projects and innovation promote particular, neoliberal forms of technoscience?
  3. What are the ways we can re-conceptualize global problems in order to challenge and go beyond solutions based on neoliberal technoscience?
  4. How might technoscience be democratized and de-commodified so that it better serves collective or public interests? If you have other ideas for papers relevant to the workshop then please do get in touch.


Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Institute for Science and Technology Studies, Department of Social Science, and Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation

Workshop Programme


Session 1: Neoliberal Technoscience

  • Keynote: Larry Busch (Michigan State, US), Standard deviation? How neoliberal standards have transformed research
  • David Tyfield (Lancaster, UK), Open science to the rescue? Googliberalism against and for neoliberalism
  • Courtney Davis (King’s College, UK), From protectors of public health to facilitators of biomedical innovation: Regulatory agencies, neoliberalism and the public good
  • Eddie Nik-Khah (Roanoke, US), The neoliberal scientific life: George Stigler on the marketplace of ideas


  • Phil Mirowski (Notre Dame, US), Science 2.0: Neoliberal Nirvana

 Session 2: Environment, Nature and Sustainability

  • Niklas Hartmann (Lancaster, UK), The rise of ecosystem services: Simplistic narrative or complex configuration?
  • Charles Thorpe & Brynna Jacobson (UCSD, US), Geoengineering and the suppression of the environmental politics of climate change
  • David Primrose (Sydney, Australia), (Re-)materialising neoliberal technoscience: The socialisation of production, the FOSS Movement and prospects for open-source agri-food biotechnology

 Session 3: Research and Innovation Policy

  • Joseph Lane (SUNY, US), There is method behind the madness of STI policy
  • Benoit Godin (INRS, Canada), Towards an embargo on innovation research, or, how to understand innovation better
  • Richard Hawkins (Calgary, Canada), Whither science – whither industry?: Challenging the notion of science-driven economic growth


Session 4: Privatization and Commercialization of Research and Innovation

  • Keynote: Alison Hearn (Western, Canada), TBC
  • Amy Lemay (OISE, Canada), Commercialization of publicly funded science policies:  Constraining the system of scientific knowledge and impeding innovation
  • Lindsay Small (York, Canada), Pigs in space: Privatization beyond Earth
  • Renata Axler (Toronto, Canada), Institutionalizing academic entrepreneurship: How academic scientists value entrepreneurial science


  • Erik Conway (JPL – Caltech, US), Turning Americans against science

Session 5: Commercialization of Biomedicine

  • Joel Lexchin (York, Canada), Corruption of clinical research
  • Fiona Miller & Martin French (Toronto & Concordia, Canada), Organizing the entrepreneurial hospital: Institutionalizing technology transfer and commercialization in the research hospital
  • Stuart Hogarth (King’s College, UK), Hybrid capture: The corporatisation and commodification of cervical cancer screening innovation

Session 6: Post-neoliberal Research and Innovation?

  • Pierre Delvenne (Liege, Belgium), Science and technology as sites of struggle in new political economies: Insights from Latin American bioeconomy
  • Jesse Goldstein (CUNY, US), Cleantech of and after neoliberalism
  • Weston Eaton (Michigan State, US), A reconstructivist praxis of the social acceptability of renewable energy: Reconsidering the assumptions of social acceptability studies

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