Sunday, January 20, 2013
Historical Ethnography in the Academy: Academia as a Bureacracy
Academia has pretty much followed the developmental path that Max Weber laid out long ago. Educational life was initially centred on the charismatic individual intellectual even if that charismatic intellectual was the product of a "civilisation" brought about by the rise of the city-state with its class differences and its practise of expropriation of land and goods by those at the top of the status pyramid in those city-states. As intellectual life became more and more tied to imperial life and in some cases to the priestly subordinates of that imperial clan and caste who sactified the imperial house, traditions were established in order to train intellectuals for service in the court. With the triumph of "rationality" with its ideologies of professionalisation, expert culture, and "meritocracy" traditional bureaucracies, including traditional educational bureaucracies, were, over time, transformed into modern mass "rational" bureaucracies just as economic and political bureaucracies in the Western world were transformed from "traditional" to "rational" mass bureaucracies around the same time in the "modern" West.
Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century history and the social sciences, not to mention state bureaucracies and quasi guilds like the law and medicine, were professionalizing in industrialized societies and settler societies all around the globe. In the United States universities adopted the Prussian higher education model and instituted graduate schools at places like Clark University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Chicago. Departments of History, Political Science, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology eventually became part of these new “modern” academic institutions. Where Clark, Hopkins, and Chicago led others soon followed. Soon all across the US colleges and universities adopted the German model and instituted graduate schools even at the venerable Harvard and Yale which had entered the nineteenth century as basically Oxbridge style theology schools. The Ph.D. was established as the top professional degree. As disciplines developed at universities around the country, professional organizations were formed and professional standards were adopted. Professional journals and academic emerged as well.
Professionalization gave rise to different if somewhat similar academic cultures. In History it became a rite of passage for graduate students to engage in primary source research in the movement from amateur to professional. In cultural anthropology and sociology the rite of passage was fieldwork, the latter in “exotic” cultures, the former in cities like Chicago and rural modernizing communities in Quebec. From the 1930s on clinical research and statistical analysis became a rite (and right) of passage for advanced psychology, sociology, political science, and to a lesser degree, cultural anthropology students as positivism, with its mania for numbers and typologies, began to dominate the social sciences. The Holy Grail for all these disciplines was now “objectivity” as “advocacy” faded from their collective disciplinary and cultural memories. Increasingly they found objective analysis in the deep structure (social, cultural, psychological, biological) of human action, in factors that only trained “experts” like themselves could discern and unearth. Throughout the entire professionalization process those who earned a degree from a recognized academic institution were distinguished from the amateurs and armchair social scientists who had dominated intellectual culture previously by their expertise, i.e., by completing a series of rites of passage, including writing a dissertation, resulting in an earned degree. “Amateurs”, amateur gentlemen scholars, were increasingly read out of the new professions. As the academy proliferated, intellectual culture outside of the academy sometimes declined.