Reza Banakar Memorial Seminar with Susan S. Silbey
This is a public lecture in memory of Professor Reza Banakar. The Sociology of Law Department arranges a series of research seminars inviting local and international researchers who conduct state-of-the-art research within various areas of law and society.
Pragmatic Regulation: Governing Inside the House of Science
Susan S. Silbey
Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences, Sloan School of Management
Common explanations for widely observed variation in compliance with legal regulations range from accounts of inconsistent and lax enforcement to industry capture through poorly designed legislation and misaligned incentives. Much recent scholarship and policy advocacy has responded by recommending innovative nudges to push behavior to reduce anticipated risks. Through a series of studies of Environmental, Health and Safety regulations in several universities and dozens of research laboratories, we identify where compliance is achieved and where it fails.
We look at what might be considered a hard case: efforts to impose regulations in ‘the house of science,’ the research laboratory, normally protected by academic freedom and independence not afforded many other occupations and industries. Although scientists do enjoy unusual degrees of autonomy in setting their professional agendas and research methods, this work describes how scientists forgo more common resistance to organizational nudges by deferring to institutional pressures for increased surveillance and inspection, prescribed training programs, and annual retraining concerning radiation, animal safety, toxins, chemical waste, and biological hazards. Why do they comply when resistance is more common?
Through both ethnographic and statistical analyses, we show how a pragmatic orientation by compliance agents reduces opposition to new and intrusive regulations, adapts to the local and institutionalized practices of different sciences, and appropriates the expertise of scientists to interpret and expand safety practices. We also identify how deference to academic rank and professional status can insulate and protect non-compliant actors.
We suggest that organizational deference to local scientific cultures, experimentation, and active self-reflective narration encourages pragmatic regulation: compliance agents become, in effect, research collaborators while each science can do safety in ways consistent with the history, sociology and epistemology.
Susan S. Silbey holds the Leon and Anne Goldberg Chair in Humanities, Anthropology and Sociology, and is Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences in the Sloan School of Management where she teaches in the programs in Work and Organizational Studies and Economic Sociology. From 2017-2019, she served as Chair of the MIT Faculty.
Silbey is interested in the governance, regulatory and audit processes in complex organizations. Her current research focuses on the creation of management systems for containing risks, including ethical lapses, as well as environment, health and safety hazards. In addition, for fifteen years, she has been part of a team following a national panel of engineers from college to the workplace.