« On April 2nd 1853, the Rev. George Jones, Chaplain of the United States Navy, set off on a nautical voyage to Japan and back, and made visual observations of the Zodiacal Light every night, evening and morning, for the whole duration of the trip, a period of over two years. Jones was meticulous in his documentation of the appearance of the phenomenon, and made efforts to eliminate subjectivity from his findings by seeking corroboration from his companions on the ship, who had no prior expectations of what they were supposed to see. His records, published in 1856 in Washington, were the first serious sustained study of the subject, and still represent the biggest single archive of attentions to the Zodiacal Light; in particular, his accounts of its variability with time and latitude still give pause for thought. (May, 2008, A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud. New York: Springer, 4)

This example shows how a non-academic research setting influences the knowledge that is ultimately produced. In this particular case, a navy chaplain, bound to very long missions with major latitude changes, devoted himself to repeated astronomic observation of the same phenomenon over a long period of time, in a way that would not be possible for other social actors. His work remained – twelve years ago at least – a usable source of information for astrophysicists interested in the question.

The aim of this conference is to examine the production of scientific, medical, technical and artistic knowledge in non-academic settings in Europe between the 17th and 21st centuries.

The point is to understand who these non-academic social actors were, and to study the interactions between their research conditions, the knowledge produced and its reception. No presupposition on the marginality of or indeed centrality of said social actors should be deduced from the wording of the question. On the contrary, it calls for a study of the complex interactions between social and scholarly social spheres.

A first approach to this question is to conduct sociological studies of these non-academic social actors, by using for example biographic or prosophographic methods. Submissions could include studies of groups situated at the intersection of professional and academic spheres, such as engineers, experts or members of learned societies. Observations on the contribution of country physicians to medical research or on networks of actors on the margins of academia producing specific kinds of knowledge could also be included. Knowledge produced in situations of oppression – be it class, gender, race, colonial and post-colonial settings – as well as the impact of these settings on the knowledge produced are also part of the conference theme. 

In a second approach, papers may focus on the material conditions of observation and data collection. Non-academic social actors operate under specific research conditions that should be examined, focusing on how these conditions influence the attained results. The question may be extended to scholars placed in improvised fieldwork situations, such as Marcel Mauss, observing the body techniques of his comrades in arms in the trenches of the First World War. 

The question of contexts of violence and war and the discovery and innovation that take place in them is a third possible approach to the conference question. Papers may be dedicated to the study of interaction between the scientific, military and industrial spheres during conflicts. 

Submissions may also relate to the question of access to scientific literature as well as the diffusion of research. This point may be approached from the point of view of institutional obstacles – when they exist – but also from that of style and writing norms. The importance of this last dimension does of course vary during the time frame taken into account as scientific fields become more and more professionalised.

Taking into account a four-century time frame makes it necessary to try and understand how long term evolution of scientific methods, practices and institutions influence knowledge production. Amongst the transformations the impact of which should be taken into account are the evolutions of universities themselves (reforms, increase in students numbers), the progressive emergence of disciplinary fields and their professionalisation, colonisation and decolonisation, industrialisation and the growing importance of technical invention and patents as well as the place of armed conflicts in the societies studied. An attention given to periodisation and to the identification of transition periods will be appreciated. Papers may discuss the relevance or irrelevance for specific contexts of such turning points as the beginning of industrialisation in the end of the 18th century, major scientific discoveries at the beginning of the 20th century or the massification of higher education by the 1950s.

Papers questioning the relevance of the “professional researcher” category depending on the historical context as well as those developing a critical reflection on the role of non-academic social actors in our scientific practices today will be particularly favoured.

Three main focuses of research, amongst other, can thus be identified:

1. Conditions of knowledge production

2. Non-academic social actors: individual and group portraits

3. Knowledge transmission and interactions with the academic world