Constructing an Arbiter of Status: A Study of the European Research Council's Emergence in the Field of Science

  • Datum:
  • Plats: Hörsal 2, Ekonomikum, Kyrkogårdsgatan 10, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Edlund, Peter
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Företagsekonomiska institutionen
  • Kontaktperson: Edlund, Peter
  • Disputation

The aim of this thesis is to shed light on how certain actors are constructed into third-party arbiters of status. Such arbiters mediate the triadic relations in which status is created, assessing and suggesting certain candidates as particularly worthy of deference from audiences.

While previous literature has provided us with compelling insights into the pervasive authority of status arbiters, less attention has been paid to the ways in which these arbiters reach their authoritative positions. I seek to build new knowledge on the processes through which third-party status arbiters are constructed by exploring how the European Research Council (ERC) was transformed into an authority in science. In a short period of time, the ERC’s evaluations of funding applications and subsequent allocations of research resources came to be approached as a benchmark of scientific quality, which scientists, departments, universities, and countries anxiously compared their research performance with. I suggest that these evaluations and allocations soon became more than instances in which quality was assessed and resources were distributed, thus turning into potent bases for status creation as well.

In three empirical chapters, which draw upon documents, interviews, and observations, I place the ERC within the context of a field, showing how its construction into a third-party status arbiter needs to be understood as a process that unfolded over time. First, I look at major tensions and struggles that surrounded Europe-level science in the advent of the ERC’s founding. Then, I examine the active efforts with which the ERC attempted to engender acceptance for its evaluations of Starting Grant (StG) funding applications. Finally, I explore the status consequences of ERC StG allocations for the careers of scientists, the milieus within departments, and the relations between universities in Sweden.

My findings contribute to previous literature by demonstrating how arbiters are constructed through mutually reinforcing relations in which the status-creating potential of evaluations is continuously framed and validated. My findings also contribute by showing how the creation of status over time requires constant maintenance efforts to sustain the agreement between arbiters and audiences in terms of candidates that are worthy of deference.