Elites académiques en Suisse 1910-2000 : Entre autonomie et pouvoir

Principal investigator : Felix Bühlmann ; Co-investigators : André Mach and Thomas David
Project staff: Thierry Rossier, Steven Piguet, Marion Beetschen, Pierre Benz
Duration: 2013 – 2016                                                                                    

Link to the SNF page


This research project aims to understand the evolution of the Swiss academic elites in the 20th century. During this period the modern university became increasingly autonomous, grew in terms of number of students and staff, specialised more and more in research, came under managerialist pressures, experienced an internationalisation and saw its staff being feminized.

Informed by these developments our project will address the two following research questions:

  1. Which are the resources typically owned by the academic elite, the processes of acquisition of these resources and their distribution within the academic field.
  2. What are the relations of academic elites to other fields (political, economic, and administrative) and how have these relations evolved during the 20th century?

To address these two points of inquiry we will draw on a historical sample of Swiss university professors. Building on an already existing data base on economic, political and administrative elites, at five benchmarks (1910, 1937, 1957, 1980 and 2000) we will collect data on relevant resources of all full professors: scientific reputation, institutional positions, social networks, international experiences and educational credentials. On a first level this will allow us to identify the general evolution of relevant resources and their distribution within the field of academic elites. On a second level we will collect more detailed data for three power related disciplines: engineering, law and economics.

These two data sets will analysed by an innovative combination of methods: a network analysis of participation in relevant meeting places (extra-parliamentary commissions, boards of directors, economic interest associations) will allow us to study the formal links of academic disciplines to politics, business and the administration. Sequence analysis will be used to scrutinize academic careers, the connections to other fields of power these careers create and the varying degree of internationality of academic trajectories. Finally, multiple correspondence analysis will allow us to understand the distribution of resources and draw a picture of the structures of the academic field.

For the first time in Switzerland, this project focussing on academic elites will overcome the particularistic studies of single universities or scientific disciplines. Second, its coverage of the whole 20th century will allow us to understand the evolution of the academic elite in the “long durée” and overcome the limitations of narrowly focused case studies. Third, we will be able to link the academic elite to leading actors in the political, administrative and economic sphere and thus to better contextualise the development of this group.

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