Research impact evaluation and academic discourse

Author : Marta Natalia Wróblewska

The introduction of ‘impact’ as an element of assessment constitutes a major change in the construction of research evaluation systems. While various protocols of impact evaluation exist, the most articulated one was implemented as part of the British Research Excellence Framework (REF).

This paper investigates the nature and consequences of the rise of ‘research impact’ as an element of academic evaluation from the perspective of discourse. Drawing from linguistic pragmatics and Foucauldian discourse analysis, the study discusses shifts related to the so-called Impact Agenda on four stages, in chronological order: (1) the ‘problematization’ of the notion of ‘impact’, (2) the establishment of an ‘impact infrastructure’, (3) the consolidation of a new genre of writing–impact case study, and (4) academics’ positioning practices towards the notion of ‘impact’, theorized here as the triggering of new practices of ‘subjectivation’ of the academic self.

The description of the basic functioning of the ‘discourse of impact’ is based on the analysis of two corpora: case studies submitted by a selected group of academics (linguists) to REF2014 (no = 78) and interviews (n = 25) with their authors.

Linguistic pragmatics is particularly useful in analyzing linguistic aspects of the data, while Foucault’s theory helps draw together findings from two datasets in a broader analysis based on a governmentality framework. This approach allows for more general conclusions on the practices of governing (academic) subjects within evaluation contexts.

URL : Research impact evaluation and academic discourse