Public relations, funding and case studies

As I started reading Beaulieu et al's (2007) article, I was struck by their mention of the cultural and institutional context of case study use in science and technology studies and how this might link the research to multiple audiences. This made me think about the fact that case studies can provide an extremely powerful illustration of a more complex issue for a public outside of the research field.

While research popularization can contribute to general understanding of an issue, if the research is publicized adequately, it can also lead to increased funding, as grant-making institutions want to fund relevant research. I haven't examined this enough to be in the position to make a link between case studies and the funding that they receive, but my experience with the mock SSHRC proposal tells me that the clearer the link between research and a current social issue, the better the chances are that it will be funded. My work in public relations also has taught me that the more concrete and emotionally engaging a story, the more likely it is that it will be picked up by the media, and thus reach the public through traditional channels. Therefore, an engaging case study that can be covered by the media and insert the researcher into a societal debate will also receive financial support to do so. What's more, the funding agency might benefit from a little publicity as well.

Since I have diagrams on the brain (and I'm sure I'm not the only one in this situation), I thought that I would illustrate my point with a little drawing. I think that this applies whether the research is in the social sciences, humanities or hard sciences. The 'generalization' ring is what links the case study to societal debate.
I then thought about how the diagram above might translate into a press release, and because I have a lot of time on my hands, I made a model of a press release that might get media attention by making the case study relevant to the public.

I'm not sure to what extent this reflects reality for researchers who have been funded, but I think that examining the politics of research methods and funding is a very interesting way to position the researcher within a broader societal context. Taking this into consideration is, in my opinion, a good way to make sure that our research can both happen and have an impact.


  1. this is a really interesting post, the politics of funding is a weird intrusion on the academy, a supposedly free area to study anything without this pressure of direct real-world relate-ability. i mean, can you study something in the spirit of pure interest? it is as if the academy owes the society something, that the fact I'm spending two years in school (and not contributing to capitalism by working) I better be doing something that is will be directly useable. this seems counter to the ideas of play, as we've explored earlier in the course, but also in the sense of valuing work over play and the philosophy of idleness.

    on a random side note, your diagram reminded me so much of mr. bruce mau's napkin sketch argument, i had to share:

  2. Thanks for sharing the diagram, it's pretty cool. I actually disagree with you that politics are a weird intrusion on the academy. In my view, everything is political to some extent, even academia shouldn't be viewed as something removed from its social context. While I do like the idea of research for its own sake and think that there should be a lot more funding available for this kind of initiative, I also think that there is value to funding 'useful' research. What's interesting, in this case, is to examine which types of research are currently perceived as valuable by funders. Is this related to trends in public discourse? Even the notion of 'research for its own sake' is a social construct; I don't think that there is ever any research that is only useful or interesting to the researcher - it's just a question of framing it in a way that highlights its usefulness.

  3. hmm, i agree with the notion 'useful' is a matter of frame, maybe what i was trying to argue for (clumsily, i admit) is that sometimes trying to explain the value of research to funding bodies might be hard because of their set frame (and to adapt to their frame will, to some extend, change how you are looking at it).