Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

The process of professionalization in European science, 1789-1850

Final Report Summary - PROSCIENCE (The process of professionalisation in European science, 1789 - 1850)

Today, sciences are divided in highly specialised disciplines, scientists are trained by defined and institutionalised procedures, and governments provide money for the scientific activity conducted by scientists as the professionals of research.

When the modern science was born and the first scientific academies were founded, in the 17th century, it was different. There were not scientific faculties at the universities and there was not a fixed scientific training for those interested in making research. Scientific research was neither a profession nor an acknowledged public activity, and it was divided in two main disciplines: natural history and natural philosophy.

Historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science chose a name for the process that modified science from its original form, at the early modern age, into the present one: 'professionalisation'.

The present knowledge about the process of professionalisation concerns mainly its social aspects and the social structures where it took place (scientific academies and universities). The notion itself of 'professionalisation' derives from the sociological category of 'profession'.

This project's purpose has been to collect evidence in order to show how scientists themselves contributed to develop the process of professionalisation while reflecting on their activity and as a consequence of debates, intellectual analysis, methodological thoughts, and questions on values. Also the project had the aim to enrich the methodology of inquiry employed by the researcher with the notion of 'genesis of concepts from written sources'.

Through a massive collection of sources from the main historical scientific libraries of Paris, the researcher has produced five articles that show different aspects of the scientists' role in defining the process of professionalisation. Two of them are published, three of them are in print. The article number 5 is a general and methodological presentation of some aspects of the project which emphasises the notion of 'genesis of concepts from written sources'. The articles number 1, 3, 4 examine how great scientists (Lagrange, Biot, Laplace) directly promoted or defined the necessity of professionalisation in science. The article number 2 shows how the writings of scientists involved in the process of professionalisation contributed to modify the philosophical perspective on the sciences developed by Schopenhauer, a philosopher who devoted an important part of his inquiry to the relationship between philosophy and the sciences.

Those articles provide substantial new assessment and enrich our historical understanding of the process of professionalisation. As such, the PROSCIENCE project has brilliantly accomplished its task and has broadened current perspectives and historiographical assumptions on the subject.

The analysis of the history of the process of professionalisation performed by this research project is very instructive for present-day reflection on the future of research and innovation, too. It should be considered by policy makers who wonder how to promote research and innovation in present Europe. The history of the process of professionalisation shows that scientists are not mere executors of research proposals, and are not only focused on the contents of their specialties; they are able contribute to the policy of research, too, together with sociologists, historians, and philosophers of science. A major application of this project to contemporary debate on the future of research and innovation is the importance of assessing the active role of scientists in defining and promoting social, economic, and political issues concerning science and research.