How Technological Platforms Reconfigure Science-Industry Relations: The Case of Micro- and Nanotechnology


With reference to the recent science studies debate on the nature of science-industry relationship, this article focuses on a novel organizational form: the technological platform. Considering the field of micro- and nanotechnology in Switzerland, it investigates how technological platforms participate in framing science-industry activities. On the basis of a comparative analysis of three technological platforms, it shows that the platforms relate distinctly to academic and to industrial users. It distinguishes three pairs of user models, one model in each pair pertaining to how platforms act toward and conceive of academic users, the other model regarding users from industry. The article then discusses how technological platforms reconfigure the science-economy divide. While the observed platforms provide new institutional contact and interaction between academia and industry, new research collaboration does not necessarily materialize in practice. In this respect, science-industry mediation by way of technological platforms does not make science-industry boundaries more porous. Instead, the declared openness of public research with respect to industry, in the case of technological platforms, may contribute to maintain public science’s autonomy.

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  1. 1.

    Cf. e.g. Carayol (2003), Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (2000), Mirowski and Sent (2008), Nowotny et al. (2001), Owen-Smith (2003), Shinn (1998), Slaughter and Leslie (1997), and Weingart (2001).

  2. 2.

    Shinn and Lamy (2006) discuss how scientists who have created their own company sit between and connect with the worlds of academia and business, showing that a maximum of university-enterprise synergy can coincide with an elevated autonomy of the scientific field.

  3. 3.

    Cf. e.g. Bozeman (2000), Meyer-Krahmer and Schmoch (1998), Owen-Smith (2005), Potthast and Guggenheim (2008), Tuunainen and Knuuttila (2009).

  4. 4.

    But see Faulkner and Senker (1994) and, as a follow-up, Rappert et al. (1999) for a qualitative investigation of the public–private sector research linkage that identifies the benefits of firms also in terms of “assistance with experimentation” such as skills in new techniques, access to research equipment, and research materials.

  5. 5.

    However, due to its preference for the perspective of the platform staff, the article is less interested in providing a “thick description” (Geertz 1973) of the users’ experiences and practices.

  6. 6.

    Some authors use “technology platform” instead of “technological platform” but we could not identify a systematic difference between the two notions.

  7. 7.

    For a distinct notion of technological platform as “foundational technology,” see Lenoir and Giannella (2010).

  8. 8.

    Our translation from the original French: “externalisation de l’expérimentation hors du laboratoire” (ibid. 23).

  9. 9.

    For example, it remains a challenging question how platforms are associated differentially with epistemic cultures, be it in the interpretation of Keating and Cambrosio, or be it in the alternative one.

  10. 10.

    For the concept of big science, cf. Galison and Hevly (1992).

  11. 11.

    Our translation.

  12. 12.

    Our translation.

  13. 13.

    Our translation.


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This article is based on research conducted within the project “Epistemic Practice, Social Organization, and Scientific Culture: Configurations of Nanoscale Research in Switzerland,” funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). For constructive criticism we thank Jörg Potthast, Liliana Doganova, Dominique Vinck, Jochen Gläser, two anonymous reviewers and the participants of the European Workshop “Doing Science-Industry” organized by the PROKNOW consortium at Sofia (September 2008). We are grateful to the observed and interviewed scientists for sharing their time and experience with us.

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Correspondence to Martina Merz.

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Merz, M., Biniok, P. How Technological Platforms Reconfigure Science-Industry Relations: The Case of Micro- and Nanotechnology. Minerva 48, 105–124 (2010).

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  • Technological platforms
  • Science-industry relations
  • Micro- and nanotechnology
  • User models