Struggles over measures: The case study of research evaluation in biology in Poland in the 1990–2020 period

Description of the project:

Evaluation, in the context of science and higher education, is most commonly defined as “a social process taking place in different areas in which values, worths, virtues, or meanings are produced, diffused, assessed, legitimated, or institutionalized with respect to academic products and their producers” (Hamann and Beljean 2017, 1). Accordingly, the aim of this study is to move this definition further by indicating the role that social conflict plays in establishing research evaluation systems, as well as to trace the roots of the dispute back to the different interests and orders of worth (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006) present within the different academic disciplines. Applied in the context of values in the academic field, the concept of “orders of worth” indicates the means used by scientists to justify and provide social validity for the activities they are involved in (Fochler et al. 2016). In effect, a conceptual framework can be developed in which evaluation system is not merely an outcome of scientific policy in order to categorize institutions for the purpose of funding distribution and promote particular behaviour and practices favoured by policymakers, but rather an outcome of interplay of different interests and power struggles between actors involved. In other words, it is seen not just as a system of evaluation but a system of valuation at the same time (Lamont 2012).

In the research project, this problem is posed in the context of the Polish system of science and higher education, which through last 20 years experimented with different research evaluation models as the main instrument of performance-based research founding system in which institutions engaged in the research were assessed. Although steering and governing the Polish system of higher education and science through the means of evaluation can be a subject of a study in its own right, this research draws on a particular feature of the Polish system. Due to the high level of the participation of academic community in co-shaping the evaluation system, i.e. through intermediary bodies or disciplinary committees, responsible for the creation of evaluation criteria, as well as for carrying out the assessment, this study assumes that the abovementioned process adopts a dynamic form. In turn, solidification of a given state of affairs is only a temporary result of a broader power struggle – a clash between the state and the academic community, as well as between different actors within the disciplinary differentiated academic community itself.

Therefore, the main goal of this project is to investigate how, in a Polish system of science and higher education, the academic community impacts the research evaluation system, shapes it, and distorts the intentions of policymakers.

For this purpose, the Principal Investigator will conduct a case study of evaluation in academic discipline of biology in Poland in the 1990- 2020 period. In the process of carrying out the research, the PI will gather and analyse both qualitative and quantitative data derived from the two main areas: 1) Policy discourse on research evaluation in reference to the discipline of biology; 2) the ways in which scientists in the discipline of biology justify and attribute value to the academic activities they perform on the daily basis. Assessing the initial theoretical assumptions against the background formed by empirical material gathered within these areas will provide the means for understanding how the interests and the agenda of the academic community penetrate into the research evaluation system and, in turn, distort or bias the intentions declared by policymakers.


  • Hamann, J. and Beljean, S. 2017. Academic Evaluation in Higher Education. In: J.C. Shin, P. Teixeira (eds.), Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions, Spinger.
  • Boltanski, L. and Thévenot, L. 2006. On Justification: Economies of Worth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Fochler, M., U. Felt, and R. Müller. 2016. Unsustainable Growth, Hyper-Competition, and Worth in Life Science Research: Narrowing Evaluative Repertoires in Doctoral and Postdoctoral Scientists’ Work and Lives. Minerva 54: 175–200.
  • Lamont, M. 2012. Toward a comparative sociology of valuation and evaluation. Annual review of sociology 38: 201-221.


The project is financed by the National Science Centre in Poland. Jakub Krzeski is the Principal Investigator.

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