Political Sociology – Prof. Dr. Kathia Serrano Velarde

Research Statement by Prof. Dr. Kathia Serrano Velarde

I am an organization and political sociologist who works on the transformations of the European education and science sector. The three interrelated issues I have explored in my major research projects.

1. Participatory politics, civic engagement and the “expertocracy”: I first began investigating civic participation in political decision-making through a cooperative project on the involvement of laypeople in French nuclear policy (Topçu/Serrano Velarde 2011). The project showed how the discursive branding of laypeople as lay “experts” deprived citizens of the capability to voice strong political objections by constraining them to a role in a purely scientific decision-making process. This paper piqued my interest in the political organization of civic participation and involvement in political ventures (Serrano Velarde 2013). My latest paper “When doing good becomes a state affair” explores the introduction of a national voluntary civic service program in Germany. In Germany, the voluntary civic service has been implemented to replace the compulsory civic (or military) service. My project explores the recategorization of the civic service from a compulsory activity to a voluntary one. In particular, I seek to examine the cognitive and normative reinterpretation of the meaning of this civic service, as well as to understand the nature of the civic participation this program actually produces. (Hass/Serrano Velarde 2015). In addition, I obtained a collaborative grant with partners from Norway so as to investigate the nature of expertise and commission work in different political settings. The project explores the way institutional settings influence the epistemic features of political consultancy.

2. Governance of science: Evaluating and standardizing scientific activity: What are the norms and values that inform the evaluation and standardization of scientific work? I began exploring this question in my PhD thesis, which examined the emergence of the market for quality assurance agencies in higher education in Germany, and have continued with in-depth research into evaluative practices in scientific setting (Gläser & Serrano Velarde2018). I have shown through my work that the emergence of evaluation techniques mirrors the institutionalization of a distinct normative and moral order in science. Since the normative framework legitimized through regular evaluation both constrains and enables those who are evaluated, all forms of evaluation have political consequences (Serrano Velarde 2018). Thus, my work contributes to a constructivist understanding of how governance mechanisms work. In my study on the introduction of an EU standard for private investment in higher education, I showed how the political legitimation of standardization was achieved by reframing higher education institutions as investment objects for private parties (Serrano Velarde 2013).

3. Control and change of scientific work: The third major facet of my work is on the changing nature of scientific work, which I have examined in two studies. The first is a comparative investigation of cross-sectoral knowledge transfers in French, British, and German universities (Serrano Velarde 2010 and 2014; Serrano Velarde/Krücken 2016); the second is a longitudinal qualitative study on the rationalization and standardization of academic grant-writing practices in Germany from 1975-2005. I am especially interested in how institutional constraints to knowledge dissemination and change are apparent in day-to-day professional practices in scientific fields (Serrano Velarde2018). Both of my studies are informed by a neoinstitutional framework that emphasizes the institutional embeddedness of organizational and professional life, which I show renders social change highly path dependent.

Methodologically, I combine different approaches to data gathering and analysis, using both qualitative and quantitative analytical methods. Since my main methodological interest is in uncovering multilevel change processes in the discursive fabric of society, I deal in large part with textual data (interview records, archives, text corpora, etc.). At the same time, my analytical approach employs diverse qualitative and quantitative methods of textual analysis, including discourse analysis, discourse linguistics, semantic network analysis, and positioning analysis.

A full list of publications can be found here.

Current Research Projects


Prof. Dr. Kathia Serrano Velarde

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Kai Behrendt, M.A.
Verena Schmid, M.A.
Chieh Hsu, M.P.P.
Patrik Dahl
Annelen Fritz
David Schultz