Knowledge, Power and Inequality in Open Science Policies

This is a joint research project led by G.A.P. in collaboration with OCSDNet, the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network. The project seeks to investigate the structures of power and inequality in knowledge production and policymaking, using the construction of the Open Science discourse as a case study. By tracing the key players behind the formation and dissemination of Open Science policies and documents, we want to question the ideological foundations at the core of this discourse, and the impact this may have on reinforcing global knowledge inequality in the scientific and development fields.

By: Denisse Albornoz

OCSDNet is an international network researching the role of openness and collaboration in science as a transformative tool for development thinking and practice. For the past two years it has conducted various research activities exploring how Open Science is conceptualized and practiced in the Global South, and it has come to the preliminary conclusion that Open Science, as defined from a Global South perspective, centers a more inclusive, situated and participatory approach to scientific production, that involves public participation and diverse social actors in the knowledge production process.

Among these research activities, OCSDNet developed the Open and Collaborative Science Manifesto – a document that challenges the public meanings associated with Open Science and puts forth a counter-narrative that integrates the diverse worldviews, experiences, and challenges of Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East into its proposal. The Manifesto also frames Open Science as a practice that promises to reverse global asymmetries in knowledge production by creating opportunities for participation and social transformation in and through science.

This rhetoric stands in contrast to the more mainstream discourse of Open Science which considers Open Science as mainly a more efficient mechanism to disseminate scientific knowledge via digital infrastructures, informatics, and communication technologies. This rhetoric is being shaped and promoted by powerful organizations, such as the OECD and the European Commission, organizations with a history of centering arguments drawn from market economic theory, whereby ICTs are framed as the new ‘tools’ for participation in a digital-knowledge economy, while open data and publications make up the ‘outputs’ of this system.

This discourse contributes to what Slaughter and Rhoades dub “academic capitalism” (2009), a consumption regime in which knowledge is commodified into products and services with the intention of generating revenue for higher education institutions, private companies, and the state. In using this language, policymakers tend to lose sight of other equally important functions served by knowledge – such as attending to social challenges or equipping citizens to access fundamental rights. Given the authoritative weight of these institutions, these arguments continue to be replicated in local, national and global policies around the world, ultimately shaping norms, beliefs and public understandings of Open Science.

Research Questions

In this regard, understanding how OS policies are framed, enacted, by whom and for whom will tell us about the power structure of knowledge production and circulation, who it benefits and whose interests it neglects. We aim to tackle questions such as:

How is Open Science defined in key policy documents and by dominant political, economic and social players?

Who are these players, and what are the assumptions, aspirations and special interests embedded in these definitions?

And in what ways are these sustaining larger discourse of power and inequality in global scientific production?  

By tracing the key players behind the formation and dissemination of Open Science policies and documents, we want to question the ideological foundations at the core of their discourse of openness, and the impact this may have on reinforcing global inequality in the scientific and development fields. Questioning knowledge production and the players involved, also allows us to gain a better understanding of what ideas and worldviews get the most traction in the international community and the ways in which they impact policymaking, distribution of power and equality around the world.


The methodology will involve a two-stage process of data collection and analysis. We have thus far based a large aspect of our methodology on Menashy et al’s 2016 study on Knowledge Banking in Global Education Policy:

The first stage involves collecting key policy documents driving the public discourse and practices of Open Science and identifying the key actors driving this discourse. We will use bibliometric analysis methods to collect and examine metadata about authorship characteristics, with the purpose of identifying patterns in disciplines, geographic location, and authorship. We will also pay attention to knowledge mobilization between these documents, focusing on identifying “points of origin” or “dominant contributors” to the construction of Open Science policies.

For the second stage, we will focus on analyzing the discourse on the previously identified policies. We will use critical discourse analysis methods (CDA) to analyze key narratives about Open Science and unpack key assumptions, beliefs, and interests that underlie policy positions. CDA is an instrumental method to unpack how language is implicated in the service of powerful players and interests (Fairclough, 2001; Taylor, 2004), and to challenge discursive hegemonies or orthodoxies embedded in policy making (Liasidou, 2007).

CDA has also been widely used by education policy analysts and critical theorists to deal with questions of power, injustice and the resulting inequality (Van Dijk, 1993). We believe this approach will demonstrate the need to make visible to diverse counter-narratives and case studies about Open Science that challenge these assumptions. We are also interested in drafting stronger links between a more inclusive Open Science and counter-narratives that call for a more equitable knowledge ecosystem and a science in service of development and well-being.


Fairclough, Norman. “Critical discourse analysis as a method in social scientific research.” Methods of critical discourse analysis 5 (2001): 121-138.

Liasidou, Anastasia. “Critical discourse analysis and inclusive educational policies: The power to exclude.” Journal of Education Policy 23.5 (2008): 483-500.

Slaughter, S., & Rhoades, G. (2004). Academic capitalism and the new economy: Markets, state, and higher education. JHU Press.

Taylor, Sandra. “Researching educational policy and change in ‘new times’: Using critical discourse analysis.” Journal of education policy 19.4 (2004): 433-451.

Van Dijk, Teun A. “Principles of critical discourse analysis.” Discourse & society 4.2 (1993): 249-283.