Natural Sciences in Academic Vienna in the 1990s: From “[Peripheral] Outpost Near the Iron Curtain” to “Central Hub”

In 1999, four editorials in the journal Biological Chemistry commemorate how, since the 1980s, Vienna has transformed from a “[peripheral] outpost near the Iron Curtain” to a “central hub” for life science research.
A closer look at these texts reveals the explicit and implicit role of drawing maps for and within science, depicting centers, peripheries and ‒ in this case ‒ geopolitically real and allegorical “iron curtains”.
Based on this observation and the issues it raises, I re-examine the pertinent empirical material covering relevant times, places, (sub-) disciplines and institutions, as well as the period after 2000. I deal with “molecularization” in biology, (sub)disciplinary differentiation, internationalization, as well as changes in public-private relations and a pair of complementary concepts of innovation and tradition. Thus, I retrace the establishment of a techno-epistemic culture in a local, disciplinary context.

I conclude that guiding principles such as excellence and internationality are understood and implemented in academia in locally and historically bounded ways, and I argue that a critical re-examination of empirical material can substantially enrich our approach to such topics.

see the article on the SHS website