ISSN : 2266-6060

Welcome to the machine


Before entering the building, you had already heard a lot about this organization: how bad it is for the French research community, how dangerous it is for the innovative and creative research, how restrictive it is for the autonomy of universities… The first thing you saw in the entrance hall was this sign reading “welcome to the French Evaluation Agency for Research and Higher Education”. There was no doubt – it does really exist and it might be polite in some occasions. And such a “welcome announcement” told more than one usually expected. As ethnomethodologist and pragmatists taught you, a collective actor never exists once and for all. Your main task was to go below such a coherent aggregate. Then, you have tried to understand the diverse components and arrangements that result in its unity in peculiar situations. After several months attending different types of meetings, conducting interviews with diverse people, reading drafts of documents, and even organizing a seminar about research evaluation, the “welcome announcement” remained puzzling.
It was very recently, several years after you finished your fieldwork, that this message rang in a different manner. After the Minister for higher education and research announced a radical change in the research assessment policy, a report was commissioned in order to give an overview of research evaluation practices and to provide advices regarding the organization of the next institution – the “High Council of Research and Higher Education Evaluation”. Reading this report is one thing. Knowing that one of the two authors was a member of the first staff of the former Agency in 2008 is another one that tells a lot about the government’s inertia. The “welcome announcement” might thus mean a kind of resurrection. And not necessarily the best one can expect. AERES is dead; long live HC/AERES. Change only its name and its gender, switching from an Agency to a High Council, and you will witness (without any kind of modesty) a wonderful cyborg so well-depicted by Donna Haraway.

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