Collective Forum - The Right to Research

Saturday, 10 June 2023

Instead of the ethos of the eternal researcher, whose career follows a straight line, and who masters a determined domain of knowledge, we prefer to imagine a minor, ephemeral and transitory research practice. (CERFI, 1975)

The ‘Right to Research’ was a manifesto written by members of the research cooperative CERFI (Centre for Institutional Study, Research and Development), published in Le Monde in 1975. The manifesto was a reaction to the French State's termination of 'research by contract' in the social sciences. Thereafter state funding for research could be granted only to those with a formal academic affiliation, either as part of the CNRS (the French National Centre for Scientific Research) or a University.

This key step towards the 'professionalisation of research' was seen by some as a positive move with benefits for the researcher in terms of a solution to precarity. However, professionalisation also implies the bureaucratisation and institutionalisation of the forms of research production.

The manifesto speaks against what it sees as the threat of a generalised bureaucratisation of research, which turns researchers into functionaries of the State. Moreover, it speaks against the integration and unification, under the aegis of professional research, of ‘that which by nature pertains to the diverse and the multiple’ and the elevation of the figure of the professional researcher to the position of the exclusive holder of knowledge.

50 years on, we think this debate speaks to contemporary issues and that it calls for a fundamental reflection on the right to research.

Perhaps the immediate parallel is with the current focus on 'research culture' or collaborative research, and on impact, which tends towards the involvement of non-professionals (non-academics) in research, not as objects, but as partners, in a way which might be seen to reverse the process of the French State’s decision of 1975. But does this really breach the boundaries of the academic sector, and doesn’t this effectively function as a further form of the control of knowledge?

CERFI’s manifesto also extends beyond current ideas of ‘co-production’. Its main concern was with the importance of guaranteeing the conditions of existence for ‘non-professionalised research’ and for those who were usually treated as objects of research to become subjects of research; thus the question of the ‘right to research’.

Putting an end to the financial autonomy of groups would end the possibility of self-management and experimentation with a variety of forms of work, research, and styles needed for social research. Moreover, the professionalization of research would come with a focus on the (professional) researcher as an individual to the detriment of research collectives.

Particularly striking in the manifesto is the importance given to the possibility for the autonomous management of funds and its interdependence with the flows of knowledge, modes of research and people management which should be fluid and in relation to the needs of the research (rather than subordinated to a major institutional mode, in this case, the model of the university institution with its hierarchy).

With the manifesto as a starting point, we propose a forum with research collectives, associations, foundations, and varied groupings engaged in research and experimentation, and individual researchers to share their work, challenges, modes of organisation and management, funding strategies and research ethos to re-think what the right to research might mean today.

Programme (Saturday, 10 June 2023)

Possible discussion points