In this research, science and its political appearance are studied through an empirical exploration of their representations in narrative expressions. The field of investigation is allocated to formal and informal discourse on university, education and research in Sweden and China. The analysed expressions were taken from 202 written reports, as students and personnel in both countries answered an open ended-question, and four formal documents: the Chinese and Swedish laws on higher education and documents on research, science, and technology. The narratives were processed through a Meaning-Constitution-Analysis (MCA), a tool used to perform a deep study of a text based on a phenomenological approach that aims at making the implied assumptions and worldviews explicit.
The analysis revealed a common representation of the university as an intermediary between the government and the student in the Swedish narratives and as a meta–character differentiated from the government in the Chinese narratives. Further, the meaning of science appeared as an adjective that characterizes a certain sphere of life in the informal narratives and as a dynamic behind a desired development in the formal narratives. The meaning of politics emerged in the Swedish narratives as the formation of an environment, mainly for activities in an institutional balance between input and outcomes. In the Chinese narratives, politics appeared as a competition for status, in which both academia and the government claim the recognition awarded for successful development. These representations of politics can guide the interpretation of the otherwise quite general understanding of education as a structure to be filled with activities in the Swedish narratives and an object for a discussion based on values in the Chinese narratives as well as the representation of research as an asset in the Swedish narratives and a source of legitimacy in the Chinese narratives.
The narrative contexts are similarly shaped by representations of an acting government, but they are different as the government takes the initiative in Swedish narratives in a task-oriented discourse, while it gets involved in ongoing academic life in the Chinese narratives in a process-oriented discourse. The narrative contexts in the formal narratives are mainly centred on the outcomes, regarding a development that is the result of a dynamic, while the informal narratives are centred on the drivers.
The revealed dimensions were analysed in relation to theories on historical phases as stories, inspired by Hayhoe (1996), and science cultures, inspired by Elzinga and Jamison (1995). The approaches in the Chinese narratives indicate a tension between academic/civic and bureaucratic/political science cultures which are advantageously framed by the differences in imperial and nationalist stories in contrast to a socialist story. The analysed Swedish narratives indicate a homogeneous representation of a dominant bureaucratic/economic science culture, in which the universities and their staffs represent the government and are centred on the rights of the students and an expected outcome. The central concerns appear in the light of attributed tasks and invested means, and is advantageously framed by a story of an increasing focus on the uses of the university on the potential expense of academic concerns.