On staging work: how research funding bodies create adaptive coherence in times of projectification

Rik Wehrens*, Lieke Oldenhof, Roland Bal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


While recent science and technology studies literature focuses on “projectification” and its felt tensions for researchers, a surprising scarcity of empirical work addresses experiences at the “other end,” such as funding bodies often held “responsible” for tensions encountered by researchers. Actors in funding bodies experience similar tensions, however. While projectification necessitates predictability and individual project objectives, research funding is also increasingly organized in networks promoting local experimentation. Moreover, funding bodies are part of a system of accountability in which investments are legitimized politically in often reductionist ways. We argue for the salience of more detailed empirical investigations into the work of funding bodies as they navigate these tensions. We apply a dramaturgical perspective to investigate the “staging work” of program committees responsible for the management of funded programs, identifying three forms of staging work: setting the scene, temporal narration, and signifying success. All come with discursive, material, and symbolic dimensions. We develop the notion “adaptive coherence” to show how the program committee sought to maintain the coherence of the overall program despite continuous risks of fragmentation due to projectification, local experimentation, and divergence in interests. “Adaptive coherence” proves productive in incorporating the temporal and spatial dimensions of staging work in networked contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-516
Number of pages34
JournalScience, Technology & Human Values
Issue number3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (Grant No. 633300004).

Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2021.


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