Essential tensions: Identity, control, and risk in research

Edward J. Hackett

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

175 Scopus citations


This paper examines the tensions and paradoxes that arise during the life course of research groups as they strive to establish and maintain an identity, acquire and retain control of an ensemble of research technologies, and evaluate and choose the risks they are willing to accept in their work. My central aim is to rekindle interest in the ambivalences, tensions, and paradoxes of science by identifying and illustrating the tensions that characterize research groups. Among the questions of concern are: How does a group establish an independent identity while remaining connected with its field of research? How are consistency of focus and continuity of approach balanced against the freedom younger scientists need to develop as independent investigators? What varieties of risks are encountered in research and how are they evaluated and navigated? Based on intensive, repeated, face-to-face interviews with scientists at various levels of seniority at elite private and public universities, the paper examines the choices leaders make at these critical junctures and the consequences of those choices. Several sorts of tensions are examined, including autocracy versus democracy, varieties of risk, role conflicts, openness versus secrecy, competitive cooperation, ambivalences about priority claims, and balancing continuity and change, and their implications for science, scientists, and the research process are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)787-826
Number of pages40
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2005


  • Accumulative advantage
  • Ambivalence
  • Collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Paradox
  • Research groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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