The role of government research establishments : a study of the concept of public patronage for applied research and development
This thesis follows the argument that, to fully understand the current position of national research laboratories in Great Britain one needs to study the historical development of the government research establishment as a specific social institution. A particular model is outlined in which it is argued that institutional characteristics evolve through the continual interplay between internal development and environmental factors within a changing political and economic context, and that the continuous development of an institution depends on its ability to adapt to changes in its operational environment. Within this framework important historical precedents for formal government institutional support for applied research are identified. and the transition from private to public patronage documented. The emergence and consolidation of government research laboratories in Britain is described in detail. The subsequent relative decline of public laboratories is interpreted in terms of the undermining of a traditional role resulting in legitimation crisis. It is concluded that it is no longer feasible to consider the public research laboratory as a coherent institutional form, and that the future of each individual laboratory can only be considered in relation to the institutional needs of its own sphere of operation. Nevertheless the laboratories have been forced into decline in an essentially unplanned way which may have serious consequences for the maintenance of the scientific and technical infrastructures, necessary for material progress in the national context.