In e-research, digital infrastructures and emergent institutions play a crucial role (Bowker and Star 1999). Collaboratories, research infrastructures or the lack thereof, digital libraries, digital repositories and collections, and new venues for scholarly publication directly influence the extent to which scholars in the humanities and social sciences can effectively make use of new research possibilities. Given the recent emergence of e-research, the consequences of the accompanying institutional rearrangement are not yet well understood. It is therefore relevant to understand the specificities of institution building in the humanities and social sciences. The theme Virtual Institutions will explore which institutional arrangements are conducive to the humanities and social sciences.
Important questions are how textual infrastructures affect the textual practices of researchers and scholars. Does it make a difference that digital infrastructures are also forms of writing? Standardisation and ordering of these infrastructures, such as computer interoperability or database standards, have a tremendous impact on the work of scholars. To what extent can they influence these processes if they are implemented at a higher level of organisation (such as the university or a data repository)? For example, how does infrastructure sustain various levels of formalisation and circulation of knowledge and information?
In this theme, specific attention will be paid to the systems of accountability in universities and research institutes. How universities and research institutes have organised their systems of quality control and accountability may have a profound effect on knowledge creation because of its impact on the criteria of scientific and scholarly quality and integrity. Does e-research go together with new ways of assessing research performance and output? In what ways do new research practices create problems for existing peer review and visitation procedures? How will individual careers be judged in very large-scale collaborative research institutes and networks? How do the forms of knowledge evolve in e-research and are particular practices hampered by the way researchers are being assessed? And in what ways are internet based information systems being used by the institutions of accountability?