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Daniel McFarland

Friday, April 12, 2024 at 3:00pm to 4:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus


The Research University as a Field of Power 


Research universities are a site of struggle. Within them is a divided intellectual culture where faculty adopt distinct orientations toward their work activities, and they compete for position and power. To outcompete their peers, faculty innovate and secure more and varied forms of resources. Elite universities support these efforts with new programs, centers, and institutional initiatives, and they consecrate them through the selective conferral of promotions to tenure, full professorships, and administrative leadership positions. In this way the research university as a field reproduces the legitimacy of elite faculty and the university’s dominant position in the larger academic field, but in a way adaptive to the changing environment. We present evidence of this via a full census of faculty members’ backgrounds, accrued capital, and administrative powers – e.g., attributes, affiliations, relationships, work activities, accomplishments and ranks – at leading research university over a 25-year period. Multiple correspondences of forms of capital reveal that the university culture and habitus is divided, with hard science faculty building high-output labs aimed at securing scientific capital, and humanistic and social science faculty adopting activist concerns and developing popular courses to secure intellectual capital. Using hazard models, we show these forms of capital have distinct appeal to different levels of promotion (tenure, full, leadership). We also show how faculty in both cultures innovate and secure new forms of capital (e.g., patents, donor funds, social media mentions – i.e., mostly toward new forms of scientific capital), increasing their pool of accrued resources (and the university’s), and raising the bar on promotion criteria. In conclusion we discuss the implications this system of struggle has for knowledge production.


Daniel studies the intellectual, social and institutional dynamics of educational systems like schools, classrooms, universities and disciplines. In particular, he has performed a series of studies on classroom organization and interaction; on the formation of adolescent relationships, social structures, and identities; on interdisciplinary collaboration and intellectual innovation; and on the form, dynamics and innovation of scientific fields. Daniel has broad research interests and has been drawn into a variety of interdisciplinary collaborations with linguists, computer scientists, and sociologists. This in turn has led to studies of big data and methodological advances in social networks, language modeling and the study of innovation.

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cascal, soccal


Daniel McFarland

Speaker Affiliation

Stanford University

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