22 SES 08 E, Developing Educational Research (Methods & Skills)
The aim of this paper is to analyze the local response to global and national education policies by considering the agency of young academics in pursuing prestige, knowledge and recognition (Marginson and Rhoades 2002).
In Russia and other countries, the state plays an important role in redesigning hierarchies higher education by implementing managerialist HE policies (Marginson 2016; Altbach 2016). Field actors are also involved in the regulation of higher education through changing subjective perceptions of each other, including non-human actors (rankings, systems of evaluation) (Bloch and Mitterle 2017).
Growing global competition institutionalizes inequalities among the “academic elite” and the others (Kwiek 2016), and tensions between the “Western” research agendas and locally relevant research increases (Nedeva 2013). This leads to thematic and methodological homogenization of research (Whitley and Gläser 2014). Universities are also expected to play a more important role in the knowledge economy and boost economic growth, social and technological progress by producing “usable” knowledge. As a result, academics become increasingly responsive to various stakeholders in their research and teaching settings and cooperate with non-academic actors in knowledge production and dissemination.
According to the “skilled actors” framework (Fligstein 2001, 2008; Fligstein and McAdam 2011, 2012), actors are agents without regard to their position within the power relations, as long as all of them are involved in the processes of interpretation and cooperation. As “skilled actors”, academics reconfigure the established structures and induce cooperation with actors from their field or other fields in order to improve their field position. Fields are commonly defined as relatively autonomous spaces bounded by the networks of social relations where contestation around a common purpose takes place (Kluttz and Fligstein 2016).
The research question of the paper is therefore toidentify how young academics as “skilled actors” form a new imaginary for research and teaching and their impact depending on their positions in the field. This research contributes to the discussion on differentiation among academics from “elite” and “mass” universities (Paradeise and Thoenig 2013) by considering both epistemic dimensions of science such as considerations for its use, and its social organization, on the micro level.
The emphasis on agency and the accounting for less powerful actors in the field
defines the choice of Fligstein and McAdam’s (2012) perspective as
theoretical framework in this study. Building on their approach, academics as “skilled actors” as opposed to self-interested “institutional entrepreneurs” (Clark 1998) are collective actors in the sense that their behavior is oriented towards others. Knowledge utilized by “skilled actors” in academia is not fixed and possessed by the academics themselves, but is largely a product of social relations. This allows for on-going coexistence of orientations at multiple types of knowledge.
Academics were selected based on a purposeful sampling strategy, using the criteria of university type, career stage, discipline and gender. Universities varied depending on their location and their involvement in research excellence programmes. At these universities, 16 young academics (eight female and eight male) were purposefully selected based on the criteria of discipline and career stage, from ranks lower than full professor. Participants were assured of confidentiality in the reporting of findings and all names were changed. The participants were either in the middle of their PhD programme or had completed it. They were all involved in teaching and other professional activities and were employed with short-term contracts (for one or two years) at the positions of assistants of departments, academic teachers, and assistant professors. Documentation, such as strategies and university policies, were used as supplementary data. Problem-centred interviews, which focused on research in the context of other professional activities (Witzel 1985) were chosen to obtain faculty members’ justifications for their actions. The data coding followed the procedures of Grounded Theory (Strauss and Corbin 1998) to develop categories and concepts and to achieve an understanding about how they are interrelated.
Our analysis reveals the persistence of centre-periphery hierarchy within the academic field at the country level as characterized by structural resources available for research activities and shared rules of interactions, which translates into two types of rather isolated locations of actors. Young academics are involved in meaning-making and horizontal and vertical cooperation as “scientists” or “experts” in academia and beyond. Academics who occupy the peripheral position in the field can redefine themselves as “experts” and seek recognition at the level of their universities and departments.
Altbach, P. G. 2016. Global Perspectives on Higher Education. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Bloch, R., and A. Mitterle. 2017. On stratification in changing higher education: the “analysis of status” revisited. Higher Education 73(6): 929–946. Bourdieu, P. 1985. Sozialer Raum und „Klassen". Leçon sur la leçon. Zwei Vorlesungen. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp. Bourdieu, P. 1988. Homo Academicus. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Bourdieu, P., and L. Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Rreflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Fligstein, N. 2001. Social skill and the theory of fields. Sociological Theory 19 (2): 105-125. Fligstein, N. 2008. Fields, power and social skill: A critical analysis of the new institutionalisms. International Public Management Review 9(1): 227–253. Fligstein, N., and D. McAdam. 2011. Toward a general theory of strategic action fields. Sociological Theory 29(1): 1–26. Fligstein, N., and D. McAdam. 2012. A Theory of Fields .Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gibbons M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P., and M. Trow. 1994. The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies. London: Sage. Nedeva, M. 2013. Between the global and the national: Organising European science. Research Policy 42, 220– 230. Witzel, A. 1985. Das problemzentrierte Interview [The Problem-Centered Interview]. In Qualitative Forschung in der Psychologie. Grundlagen. Verfahrensweisen. Anwendungsfelder, ed. G. Juettermann, 227-256. Weinheim und Basel: Beltz.
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