The Tyranny of Relevance and the Art of Translation; towards pathways of impact

See on Scoop.itDual impact of research; towards the impactelligent university


The ‘tyranny of relevance’ captures a widespread sense of concern among social and political scientists that their academic freedom and professional autonomy is under threat from a changing social context in which scholars are increasingly expected to demonstrate some form of social ‘relevance’, ‘impact’ or ‘engagement’ beyond academe. This article attempts to reframe the current debate by reflecting upon the history of the discipline and different forms of scholarship in order to craft an argument concerning the need for political scientists to rediscover ‘the art of translation’. This, in turn, facilitates a more sophisticated grasp of key concepts, emphasises the need for the discipline to engage with multiple publics in multiple ways, and suggests that engaging with non-academic audiences is likely to improve not simply the discipline’s leverage in terms of funding, or scholarship in terms of quality, but also teaching in terms of energy and relevance. The simple argument of this article is not therefore that political science has become irrelevant, but that it has generally failed to promote and communicate the social value and benefit of the discipline in an accessible manner. Resolving this situation is likely to demand a little political imagination.

The author:”

The argument is not that academics should become public intellectuals, but rather more akin to specific or critical intellectuals in the sense of bringing new perspectives, expertise or insights to bear on contemporary debates. The notion of critical intellectuals injects a very clear normative or political dimension which grates against the view of many critics that the current emphasis on relevance represents little more than the (tyrannical) imposition of a shallow market-based and instrumental logic that should be resisted – resisted on the basis that the need to be viewed as ‘engaged’, ‘relevant’ or having some form of demonstrable ‘impact’ risks sterilising the study of politics and silencing critical voices.A different ‘road to relevance’ might interpret the changing context not as a threat but as an opportunity to showcase exactly why the study of politics matters, to forge a deeper and more reflective model of scholarship, to redefine the boundaries of the discipline and to increase the leverage position of the discipline vis-à-vis external research funders.”



The Tyranny of Relevance and the Art of TranslationMatthew Flinders

Article first published online: 16 APR 2013

DOI: 10.1111/1478-9302.12011

Political Studies Review

Volume 11, Issue 2, pages 149–167, May 2013

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About Wilfred Mijnhardt
RMIMR is my virtual playground, a place to reflect on issues from my professional context, my job as Policy Director at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). RSM is the international university based business school at Erasmus University Rotterdam. More info here: Here is my list of relevant publications on the topic of my RMIMR weblog: The rss feed for my RMIMR collection is here: Here is my other weblog on impact of research:

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