Professions, power and the definition of science: the development of Swedish universities 1990-2005


This project concerns the development of the profession of university teacher/ researcher in Sweden during the last decades. The recent decades have involved many changes for the university sector, some of a political nature and some relating more to the general development of post-industrial economies. The Swedish public sector has become more marketized, amongst other things through the introduction of new public management. This has affected universities to a great extent. The role of knowledge production has become more central in post-industrial society, in public discourse and political decision making as well as in economic life. Sweden’s greatest companies now invest heavily in R&D, and co-operation between universities and industry are considered crucial to stable economic development and the support of the welfare state.

The project deals with the effect of this development on professional values. The theoretical point of depature is a combination of theories of professional groups and their role in society, Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory and theories on the function and role of personal networks. The hypothesis is that political decisions as well as other changes are mediated (at the level of the individual university) by groups of actors who have their own values and interests. Some of these groups belong to a profession, others do not. To regard the university as an institution on the academic field and to assume that there must be core values, what Bourdieu calls a “doxa”, and that there are conflicts over how to define the doxa, makes it possible to investigate groups of actors in and around the university, and study this battle. The doxa is of course what is to be regarded as “good science”, but there may also be other conflicts between groups with differing “habitus” or “taste”. The plan is also to study negotiations, interaction and alliances between these groups, not the least personal networks. The project will be based on micro studies, three separate studies being planned:

• I. The first study is an interview-based study of the professional identity of young researchers, captured through studies of their ideas on what science is and how it should be conducted, how they look upon their career prospects, the measure of professional autonomy they enjoy, etc. The local context, i. e. the department, is included in the study.

• II. The second study is a study of professional groups within the university other than the profession of university teacher/researcher, and their values. This study will be carried out through a snowball study of three crucial areas: pedagogics/utbildningsvetenskap; evaluation and academic leadership.

• III. The third study is aimed at finding out the professional identity and values of the highest officeholders in Swedish universities.

This project is financed by Torsten and Ragnar Söderbergs stiftelser through the Royal Academy of Science.

Ylva Hasselberg, docent
Ekonomisk-historiska institutionen, Box 513, 751 20 Uppsala
Tel: 018-471 57 55


            Foto: Magnus Hjalmarsson

Vid institutionen finns ett affilierat forskningscentra:

Uppsala Centre for Business History

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Economic and Industrial Democracy

An International Journal

Published by Sage in Association with Department of Economic History, Uppsala University, Sweden

Editors: Lars Magnusson and Jan Ottosson, Uppsala University