Evaluation and social inequality in academia

In this cumulative project, I assemble a number of studies that highlight how social processes of valuation and evaluation contribute to the production and reproduction of inequality through routine practices and taken-for-granted actions.

The studies assembled for this project focus the nexus between (e)valuation and inequality in different sites in academia: 1) professorial appointment procedures, 2) obituaries published in academic journals, and 3) governance instruments of research performance assessment.

The assembled studies make two contributions: They sensitize the sociology of valuation and evaluation for issues of inequality and power, and they inform quantitative research on social inequality about social processes like valuation, recognition, and legitimization.

Sociology of Qualitative Methods

What role do methods play for the way we conduct our research? How do they shape and bring about the things that we study?

The project draws on current debates in science studies and the sociology of scientific knowledge that are interested in knowledge practices in the social sciences.

My work in this project has two foci: Practices of qualitative inquiry, i.e., the daily routines of developing, applying, and modifying qualitative methods, and the nexus of methods and power, i.e., the way power relations are built into and reproduced by sociological methods and methodologies.

Professorial appointment procedures

What is actually going on when professors are appointed? How do research profiles of individual scholars emerge? How are different candidates compared? How are very consequential recruitment decisions legitimized?

To address these and other questions, this project draws on archived records of 145 appointment procedures that took place from 1950 to 1985 at 16 German universities. Studying this material, my research in the project is mainly concerned with dynamics and processes of (e)valuation, positioning, performativity, and subjectivation. Going beyond methodological concerns about what documents ‘actually’ prove, this project takes serious the textual agency of documents.

The project was funded by the German Research Foundation (2015-2018).

Academic obituaries

Academic obituaries are a fascinating and yet understudied genre. The project demonstrates that obituaries do more than just remember dead professors. Obituaries are a site where lifetime achievements are evaluated, where biographical artifacts are produced and consecrated, and where subjectivity is constituted.

The project draws on a sample of 216 obituaries published in academic journals from the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany, in physics, history, and sociology, and from the 1960s to the 2000s.

The project was supported by a Feodor Lynen Postdoctoral Research Fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Centralized research performance assessment

What are the effects and defects of assessing research quality not via decentralized peer review, but centralized, with a comprehensive and generic, yet peer review-based framework?

In this project, I have looked into what is probably the most sophisticated framework for assessing the research of higher education institutions: the United Kingdom’s Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which has been renamed to Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014.

In a longitudinal perspective across the three most recent assessments from 2001 to 2014, I have examined processes of standardization and stratification related to the RAE/REF.

Towards a sociology of humanities

Science is global. Its personnel is internationally mobile, and its communication takes place via English language publications. This narrative has long dominated the sociology of science and higher education. However, it tends to overlook vast areas of the academic map: the humanities.

This project contributed to the growing field of sociology of the social sciences and humanities. Several strands of work evolved from this project: In my PhD, I studied how the notion of “Bildung” is discursively constructed in the humanities, and how it develops from the 19th century to the present.

In other studies, I have examined how the humanities are anchored in national contexts and produce national narratives, traditions, and ideologies. This contribution to national narratives is a remarkable “social impact” of the humanities since the 19th century.

In yet other work I have looked at symbolic boundary work in which the humanities and the natural sciences negotiate their relation to each other.