Chapter 17International Mobility of Scientists

Kieron Flanagan


A strong aspiration toward universalism predates the government-funded, professionalized, and internationalized modern scientific enterprise by several centuries (Musselin 2004; Kim 2009). In this sense, international mobility is central to conceptions of knowledge production. However the nature and purposes of mobility have evolved as the sciences have professionalized. Over time, mobility behavior has become more purposeful and more clearly associated with research and career objectives rather than more general considerations of scholarship (Heffernan and Jöns 2013).

Recent decades have seen mobility actively constructed as a problem to be resolved by policy action (as in the fear of a “brain drain” of talented British scientists to the United States in the 1960s) or as a solution to the challenges faced by national research systems in a globalized world (harnessing the power of “brain circulation” and the transnational networks thus created). The current preoccupation with “brain circulation” as a means of raising the “excellence” of national research systems and boosting the exchange of knowledge is exemplified by the efforts of the European Commission to promote mobility of scientists between European Union member states.

Yet there remains surprisingly little consensus as regards how best to conceptualize scientific mobility. The many studies extant represent partial snapshots of a complex, entangled ...

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