The Concept of Research

Research, particularly basic research, is one of the central social and cultural values of the twentieth century. Whereas science as a body of knowledge (natural and social) and as a method (experimental and hermeneutic) have been discussed for centuries among philosophers and ‘men of science’ (scientists), research as a scientific activity or practice, conducted at the level of individuals or organizations, became an object of public discourses only in the twentieth century. Industrialists espoused research as a source of industrial progress, and governments as a source of national economic growth.

Basic and applied research have their conceptual historians. But there is no conceptual history of research per se. This project basically inquiries into two issues:

  1. What is research, that is, how is research defined by scientists and officials?
  2. What discourses developed on research over the last two centuries, and what has changed in the last decades?



Godin, Benoît Official Statisticians as Conceptual Innovators, International Review of Sociology, special issue on “European Politics of Numbers: Sociological Perspectives on Official Statistics in Europe” (Guest editor: Francesco Antonelli), 26 (3), 2016: 1-17.

Godin, Benoît and Désirée Schauz (2016), The Changing Identity of Research: A Cultural and Conceptual History, History of Science, 54 (3): 276-306. Available at

Godin, Benoît (2017), Innovation and the Marginalization of Research, Paper no. 29, Project on the Conceptual History of Innovation, Montreal: INRS.