Professors’ status loss

Christine Musselin, a French sociologist of higher education, ventures an interesting interpretation of the changing relation between professional status, salary, and the overall size of the academic profession. In short, she argues that the larger academia gets, the lower status professors will have.

The massification of higher education has not only had demographic implications. It has led to a certain trivialization of university faculty’s social position in developed countries — it is no longer rare to be an academic. At the same time, it is no longer rare to be a university graduate. This trend should increase in the years to come, in spite of the stagnation of demographic growth in developed countries as enrollments among 18- to 25-year-olds, by cohort [classe d’âge], tend to plateau or even decline. But official policies in most developed countries, as we enter the third millennium, nonetheless aim to increase access to higher education. In France, the objective of the post-2007 government, like that of its predecessor, is to bring 50% of each age class to bachelor’s [license] level. The idea is to facilitate underprivileged or underrepresented populations’ access to education, to encourage the pursuit of studies through graduation, to encourage further studies and teaching all throughout the life course. One should not thus expect a decrease in the population of university teachers in the years to come; one should expect growth, aimed at accommodating students with more and more diversified profiles in terms of age, sociological composition, motivation, etc.

These developments are often described as one of the signs of contemporary societies’ transition towards “knowledge societies” [sociétés de connaissance] one of whose notable characteristics is a break with the concentration of knowledges [savoirs] within a handful of heads. University faculty, as they become more numerous and come to play a central role in this process, will be less and less able to maintain the quasi-monopoly of knowledge [connaissance] expertise that they have held in the past.

The progressive loss of social prestige should thus continue — at least for the larger part of the professoriate, who won’t be in the avant-garde of scientific production, but will rather primarily contribute to the transmission of knowledge and the training of highly qualified personnel. This evolution has already been in progress for a long time and can be measured in particular by looking at salaries. University faculty salaries have evolved less favorably than those of professionals with the same level of education working outside academia (for France, see Bouzidi, Jaaidane and Gary-Bobo [2007]). This trend goes for most of the university models concerned [here in this study], whether quasi-completely public as in Europe or partly private as in North America, whether the academics are state functionaries or have private-sector contracts.

(Musselin, Les universitaires, 2006, pp. 25-26, my translation.)

My sense is that academics’ “status loss” is somewhat more complex than this, since, if you believe what you read on academic blogs, most American college students can’t tell the difference between an adjunct with really low institutional status and salary and a tenured professor. So on the level of everyday phenomenology of professional life, Musselin’s description seems a little hasty. But there is certainly a sort of myth, at the very least, that (American) faculty used to get more respect than they do now; and it may well be the case that students, on the whole, demonstrate less exaggerated obsequiousness than they once did. And it’s hard not to agree with Musselin that this shift likely is deeply related to  the massification of higher education: as if the more people go to college, the less prestige they gain from it – and the less prestige their teachers garner from teaching them. As if there was a kind of prestige mimesis, such that the lower status of today’s less elite student populations was contagious. Some longer meditations on the relation between prestige and scarcity may be in order here: Graeber’s, for example…

Religion at Paris-8: Djinn and the Evil Eye

This is the last installment of my translation of some preliminary results from Charles Soulié’s study of religion among Paris-8 students, and this is going to be the post where I out myself as some kind of rationalist and modernist… Or at any rate where I express surprise at the non-negligible rates of magical and supernatural belief within the Paris-8 student body. I’ll sum things up: about 1 in 3 students believe in the Evil Eye (or at least they checked “yes” on the questionnaire), about 1 in 5 believe in djinn, and about 1 in 5 believe in astrology. These are minority views, in all cases, certainly, and are no doubt products of the radically transcultural space of Paris-8, where normative French national beliefs are often not in effect. A couple of these seem to be characteristically Islamic beliefs, others more diffuse across religions. To be honest, I can’t say I really understand what it’s like to believe in the Evil Eye, though I do have some idea what it means to believe in astrology (I give the astrologers credit for their acceptance that our lives are determined from the outside, though I strongly disagree that star positions are the most important node in this process of determination). For a devoutly secular person like me… there’s something always just slightly disquieting in reading over the substantial rates of non-secularism in the world.

A further note on this data: The last question here deals with wearing religious signs (strongest among the Greek Orthodox, as you’ll see). I’d emphasize here that our analysis of these religious artifacts ought to be somewhat different from our analysis of the rates of evil-eye-belief. A worn artifact is a sign of external identification (or verification) of one’s social identity in a way that a mental acceptance of some phenomenon (e.g. djinn) need not be. Even religious signs that are worn under the clothing, it seems to me, still have this characteristic of identity marking, even if one is thereby only signaling to oneself one’s own identity. (It’s interesting to note that among these signs of identity, only one, the headscarf, seems to have become a major public controversy. But we won’t get into the French politics of the veil just now.)

So without further ado…

Table 2: Belief in the Evil Eye by religion

Yes No No Response Total
Muslims 68.90% 24.41% 6.69% 100%
Christians 47.83% 44.93% 7.25% 100%
Other religions 44.57% 46.74% 8.70% 100%
Greek Orthodox 38.46% 53.85% 7.69% 100%
Jews 36.36% 54.55% 9.09% 100%
Catholics 35.62% 59.59% 4.79% 100%
None / NR 13.77% 82.32% 3.91% 100%
Buddhists 11.76% 88.24% 0.00% 100%
Protestants 7.69% 89.74% 2.56% 100%
Total 31.48% 63.44% 5.08% 100%
n 403 812 65 1,280

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Religion at Paris-8, Part 2

I see that Mike has already inquired as to the methodology of the report on student religion that I began posting yesterday. Most of his methodological queries are settled by the below section, which was actually the introduction in the original French version, but which I’m posting second because I wanted to start with some of the substantive conclusions.

This report looks into the ways that undergraduates [étudiants de 1er cycle] at Paris-8 relate to religion, and into their opinions and practices about their customs and politics. It is based on a questionnaire and interview study conducted in 2004-5 with a group of undergraduate sociology students at Paris-8 (Vincennes-Saint Denis). The project looks at these students’ undergraduate classmates who were present in class across a selected sample of some ten disciplines. It was initially planned as a form of research training through research practice.

The framework of inquiry

Paris-8 has the greatest fraction of foreign students of any French university. In 2003-4, grouping all levels together, they formed 34.7% of enrollments. At the same time, as a result of its location in Seine Saint-Denis [a working-class suburb just north of Paris], this establishment has a high percentage of immigrants’ children. The high proportion of migrants, and of children of migrants, thus makes the establishment a privileged observatory of the processes of religious, moral and political acculturation.


1,280 students responded to the questionnaire and around thirty interviews were conducted. 65% of respondents were first years, and 67.6% were women, the percentage of women ranging from 85.6% in psychology to 19.4% in computer science [informatique]. 80% of the students were French, 10% came from the countries of North and Central Africa [des pays du Maghreb et d’Afrique noire], 5.6% from Europe, 2.9% from Asia and 2.1% from America or elsewhere. The majority of foreign students at Paris-8, therefore, come from the countries of North and Central Africa, which are largely Islamic.

The proportion of foreigners varies by discipline. It’s highest in French literature (57.9%) and computer science (45.8%), and lowest in history (7.8%), plastic arts (9.9%) and cinema (10.2%). The particular nationalities also vary by discipline: the Europeans are most present in French literature and communication, the North Africans [maghrébins] in computer science and economics, the Central Africans in economics, and the Asians in French literature and computer science. This distribution also generally corresponds with the observable tendencies on the national scale.

We must also add that the notion of a foreign student, beneath its apparent bureaucratic simplicity (being a foreigner means having a foreign nationality), is a complex and ambiguous one. For some have lived for a very long time in France, or were even born here, while others are in positions of mobility; and this varies greatly according to nationality. 37% of North African students have a father who lives in France, against 20.8% for European students and 12.5% for those from Central Africa. These students’ family roots, and hence also their social, economic and cultural roots, thus differ strongly.

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Religion at Paris-8, Part 1

The main point of this post is as follows: One of the most left-wing universities in France is composed of a majority — a very slight majority, mind you, but still a majority — of religious believers.

Charles Soulié, of the Paris-8 sociology department, kindly shared with me some unpublished results of a survey project on campus religious belief that he conducted in 2004-2005. I’m going to post my translation of it in three segments: first the basic figures, then his comments on foreign students, and finally some very interesting results about campus beliefs in magical phenomena like the Evil Eye (beliefs which, moreover, aren’t as extinct as one might expect in our supposedly postmodern era).

Here’s what the figures look like, broken down by discipline. (I’ll post some details about the survey later; for now let me just note that it’s a survey of undergrads.)

None* Muslims Catholics Other Christians Other Religions
Cinema 71,43% 8,16% 9,18% 0,00% 11,22%
Arts 64,93% 5,69% 10,43% 8,06% 10,90%
Psychology 56,15% 15,57% 9,43% 9,43% 9,43%
Anthropology 54,72% 14,15% 10,38% 9,43% 11,32%
Communication 48,31% 14,98% 17,87% 9,18% 9,66%
History 46,07% 25,84% 13,48% 6,74% 7,87%
Others 42,37% 25,42% 10,17% 10,17% 11,86%
French Lit 36,84% 31,58% 5,26% 19,30% 7,02%
Computer Sci 26,39% 45,83% 8,33% 9,72% 9,72%
Economics 22,63% 44,53% 12,41% 16,06% 4,38%
Total 49,92% 19,84% 11,41% 9,45% 9,38%
N (total 1,280) 639 254 146 121 120

* None designates no religion, atheist or no response.
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Disciplinary evolution in French universities

If you want to get a sense of the overall institutional situation of French universities, it helps to look at how many French students are studying what. In this post I just want to present a basic, broad overview of the situation.

There’s a lot to see here. You can see what sociologists call the “second massification” of the universities, a period of major growth from something like 1985-1995. Almost every discipline is rising. The largest disciplines are not, actually, the ones with the most growth. That dubious honor goes to the field called STAPS, which stands for Sciences et Techniques des Activités Physiques et Sportives, which we could translate loosely as Athletic Sciences. STAPS grew from 10,947 enrolled students in 1979 to 41553 in 2005 — a 3.8-fold increase! The similarly tiny fields of dentistry (odontologie) and pharmacy, on the other hand, actually shrunk, though you can barely see them because they get lost in the bottom of the graph.

Let’s look more closely at the major disciplines. Letters and human sciences here are labeled lettres; they’d probably be called humanities and social sciences in the U.S. Anyway, it’s striking that they constitute the largest sector of French higher education, with around half a million enrollees. They have almost doubled in size since the 1980s, though they have also been in a steady, slow absolute decline since the mid-nineties. The sciences are smaller, but show a similar trend. The business-oriented disciplines of Eco (here short for Sciences Economiques) and Admin (Administration économique et sociale) have grown somewhat more, by a factor of 2.7, and seem to have on the whole one of the most consistent, steady rises of any field. Law (droit), which presumably leads to both private and public-sector careers but at any rate to a secure professional identity, has grown somewhat and leveled off, while its cousin medicine has on the whole slightly declined. (Law and medicine are the two most traditional professional fields in the traditional French university.)

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French university towns and decentralization

As it turns out, there’s no need for me to cobble together my own maps of French higher education. A beautiful official atlas is already made available by the Higher Education Ministry, with far more detail than I would care to track down by myself. Let me reproduce a couple of their figures:

As you can see, Paris is still by far the biggest university town. If we look at the accompanying figures for 2007-8, it turns out that Paris proper has 156,743 university students, with 320,942 total in the Paris region (Ile-de-France). After that, we have Lyon (73,262), Lille (58,788), Toulouse (57,907), Aix/Marseille (56,590), Bordeaux (53,335), Montpellier (43,355), Strasbourg (37,299), Rennes (37,008), Grenoble (32,978), Nancy (28,078), Nantes (26,329), Nice (21,664), and from there on down… As in the last post on centralization, here too, mapping by student population size, we can see that the Parisian region remains by far the largest university site — its 320,942 of 1,225,643 total public university students comes out to 26% of the nation’s university population. (Note that universities only constitute about half–56%–of the French higher ed population, but we’ll talk about the rest of them some other time.)

But our thinking about centralization has to shift when we find out that, over time, provincial universities have grown and thus diminished Paris’s relative standing. In other words, it seems that historically, Paris used to be even more the center of the academic universe than it is now. To better understand this process let’s look at a thumbnail sketch of French university massification by a sociologist I know here, Charles Soulié:

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Race and white dominance in American anthropology

anthro phd production by race

In demographic terms, anthropology in the United States continues to be dominated by white Americans. Consider this graph of the racial distribution of anthropology doctorates over the last twelve years (incidentally, the NSF had no data for 1999, so there should really be a gap year inserted here, but I trust you can all manage without one). The enormous top segment of this graph shows the very large fraction of new U.S. anthropology doctorates that go to white Americans. This decade, on average, 65.7% of new anthro phds were white. And yet we also observe that this dominance is falling, slowly, over the years; you can see that here visually. 75% of new anthropology doctorates went to whites in 1995 but only 63.6% in 2007. And other minority groups have grown, slightly, as demonstrated by the widening of those bands that indicate black Americans, Hispanics, and Asians (which includes Pacific Islanders in the NSF-supplied data I use). But racial equity is far from attained.

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Gender imbalance in anthropology

gender gap anthro phds

I want here to present some quick graphs that suggest the changing gender dynamics within American anthropology. This first graph shows the production of new doctorates since the 60s. It is commonly thought in the field that there has been something of a “feminization” of anthropology over the past few decades, and as we can see here, the number of doctorates awarded to women (in blue) has indeed been greater than the number of doctorates awarded to men (red) since 1992. We can see here that males were demographically dominant in the production of doctorates until 1984, after which there were eight years of approximate equality (where the two lines overlap) followed by divergence.

Important to note, it seems to me, is that although it’s true that the relative place of males and females has indeed been inverted, the overall picture here is that the two lines have risen together fairly regularly. Quite often, especially in the last fifteen years, we can see that little shifts correlate across genders, as in the little drops in 2001 and 2005. And the demographic expansion of the field in general is of a far greater demographic magnitude than the shift in gender balance. In 2007, we awarded more than five times the number of new doctorates as in 1966 (519 vs. 98) — a fact whose significance I will come back to later. But to get a better sense of changing gender ratios, consider a graph of women as a percentage of the total pool of doctoral recipients.
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Trends in graduate student funding in anthropology

anthro grad funding

This may be the last of my demographics posts for a bit, as I have to leave town for this coming week. But I think this may be one of the most important for anthropologists to examine — grad students in particular. Turns out there are NSF statistics on evolving financial support over time. Here I present the general picture for our field between 1972 and 2006 — the last 35 years.

Here are the major conclusions I’d draw:

  • Unfunded (euphemistically “self-supported”) people comprise an enormously large fraction of the graduate student body. It used to be above half (56.6% in 1977). Now it’s down to about a third (35%), but that, of course, still means that one person in three has no financial support from their institution.
  • The fraction of people with fellowships used to be very low, falling as low as 15.6% (in 1982), and is still a relatively scanty 24.7% of all graduate students. Barely 1 in 4 gets fellowship support, in other words.
  • The fraction of grad students who support themselves by teaching has been rising. In 1977, it used to be as little as 17.3%; it has risen to 30.8%, the largest single form of institutional funding.
  • Research assistants have formed a fairly small though very slowly growing segment, currently 9.6%, which is fairly close to their average share of 8.8% over the last 35 years.
  • Overall, more people are getting some sort of funding than they used to, mostly through slow growth in teaching and fellowship support. 65.1% of all students currently get some kind of support.

It’s good to see that things are improving. But one would like to think that our field overall could manage more financial support for the more than 1 in 3 grad students who are getting nothing.

When I get a chance to come back to this, I may look at federal funding across the social sciences, or perhaps compare funding trends across disciplines….

Dominant departments in American anthropology

anthro phds by dept 2

In case you ever wondered which departments dominate my discipline — anthropology — in America, here we can get a pretty clear sense of demographic dominance, at the very least. I’ve added together the total number of PhDs awarded by each of these departments over the last two decades (1987-2007, 21 years total) and we can see that some departments have produced far more than their share of new doctorate-wielding anthropologists.

UCLA and Berkeley are tied for the greatest production of scholars, at 322 total, with Chicago next at 296, Harvard and Michigan some way behind that at 253, University of Texas-Austin just behind there at 248, University of Florida at 220, University of Arizona at 219, Columbia at 211, and then on down the line.

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Doctoral production in anthropology and the social sciences

Yesterday I considered the fact that, in terms of its production of undergrad degrees, anthropology is relatively small and about the same size as ethnic studies, with sociology and economics far above, and political science (cum-public-administration) far still above that.

But things look a bit different if we turn to look not at undergraduate degrees but at the doctoral degree production that’s essential for the reproduction of the teaching and research body of the profession. (Haven’t had time to look at Master’s degrees so far; I suppose that master’s degrees would serve a joint role as both an intermediate academic credential and a semi-professional credential, and are a stepping stone to the doctorate in some cases, but this requires more research.)

evolution of social science phds

At the doctoral level, anthropology is no longer at the bottom of the charts; over the past forty years it has climbed from being one of the smallest social science graduate fields to being roughly similar to sociology. In 2007, anthro graduated 519 new PhDs while sociology was at 573. Economics, nonetheless, clearly appears to be the dominant social science discipline (demographically speaking), though political science has approached it on several occasions and even surpassed it for a few years earlier this decade.

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Disciplinary socio-demography, and anthropological prejudice against quantification

“Is it worth learning quantitative skills?” I remember asking a pair of action researchers some years ago. “They’re useful insofar as they give tools for understanding social processes,” they said.

But I didn’t follow up on that at all until I recently started reading the “socio-demographic” work of Charles Soulié, a Bourdieuian French sociologist of universities whose research interests are fairly close to mine. The premise of this research is something like this: by examining the comparative history of enrollments and teaching jobs across disciplines, one can examine what Soulié calls the “evolution of the morphology” of academic fields. This isn’t very hard-core quantitative research by statisticians’ standards, I note — he doesn’t exhibit tedious anxieties about the uncertainties in his sources, nor does he propose mathematical models or major statistical analysis of his data. The methodology seems to be, in essence, visual inspection of the evolving demographics of disciplinary enrollments. He takes these as indicators of things like the “relative position of sociology in the space of disciplines,” and comes up with findings that are like:

  • Sociology produced half as many graduates in philosophy in 1973, but now things are reversed, and in 2004 sociology produced 2.6 as many graduates as philosophy. This is an indicator, for Soulié, of sociology’s rising comparative importance in the university system (and philosophy’s stability, which in context was a relative decline).
  • In 1998/99, “the fraction of children of professionals and upper management rose to 28.4% in letters and human sciences, against 23.1% in sociology and 38.1% in philosophy” — which tells us something important about the comparative class basis of sociology vs. philosophy at that point in time [updated to clarify: these examples refer to French academia].

I find this kind of thing quite interesting and revealing – hence this series of posts on the demographics of my own discipline – but I wonder about its epistemological basis. What does it mean, actually, that one discipline has more students enrolled than another? Is it right to speak of a competition between disciplines for students? What makes one discipline more “attractive” or “desirable” than another at a given moment? It’s not like students pick their courses based on a completely rational response to a job market, or even an idea market. In fact, it’s not clear that “market” is a good description for these kinds of systems; as Marc Bousquet has often argued, talk about the academic “job market” (for instance) disguises the fact that university administrators actually dictate the academic job system, by deciding to opt for hiring adjuncts, grad students, etc. Likewise, shifts in degrees issued, in enrollments, etc, may not necessarily be the result of “competition” or market forces (whatever one’s stance on the empirical existence of said market forces). There can be other kinds of systematic processes at work; the “morphology” of the disciplines as revealed in their enrollments doesn’t tell you everything about processes of interdisciplinary conflict and coexistence.

But the brute fact remains that there have been major historical shifts in how many students anthropologists educate, and major shifts in how large our discipline is vis-a-vis other disciplines. And these aren’t just arbitrary. They need to be explained, if we’re to understand where our discipline actually exists in the world. When American anthropology is educating a small fraction of a percent of college students, that’s not something that just happens by chance.

I feel here the strong sense of a bias in my own discipline against quantitative analysis. It’s somewhat jarring, from the narrow confines of an anthropologist’s culturalist background, to look at these comparative figures. In cultural anthropology, I think there is a widely shared consensus view today that goes something like this: culture is inherently qualitative, folded over on itself in swathes and patches and wrinkles of rich, dense symbolic significance; it would necessarily be deformed, or at best severely limited, by any effort to reduce it to a general and/or quantitative analysis. Among cultural anthropologists, numbers and quantitative facts are apt to be taken not as means of analysis, but as objects of cultural analysis and symbolic forms in their own right. So we get studies of the cultural effects of perniciously quantifying, rationalizing, neoliberal projects; and we see arguments about how the obsession with the quantitative is itself merely another local cultural phenomenon, and not a privileged, master form of knowing about the world. Often these kinds of arguments are made casually, in passing, or are simply taken for granted, inscribed in our disciplinary habits.

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Anthropology within the American social sciences

To continue this week’s project of elaborating on anthropology’s disciplinary context and structure, let’s see where we fit in relation to the other social sciences in our production of bachelor’s degrees.

social science bachelors evolution

As with the more general university situation, all fields have been growing, albeit with a major dip in the mid-seventies to late-eighties, which is again probably due to the Baby Boom ending. It’s obvious that the biggest field by far is political science — though my figures for political science also include public administration, whose more marketable vocational potential may explain the overall predominance of this discipline. Economics and sociology, in blue and green, have been somewhat similar for decades — while sociology was far more popular from the ’60s into the ’70s, economics overtook it between 1980 and 1994, and since then sociology has pulled ahead slightly but not that much. One notices a curious correlation, probably spurious I suppose, between the economics degrees issued and the political party holding the presidency: throughout the Reagan/Bush 1 era, economics is ascending; then it drops substantially under Clinton; then it rises again around when Bush 2 comes into office.

I note in passing that linguistics is absolutely tiny and barely visible (a thin brown line at the bottom of the graph). Our own discipline, anthropology, is pretty low on the charts too; and it also has a very close partner on the graph, which is area and ethnic studies. It turns out, somewhat unexpectedly, that anthropology and ethnic/area studies have been very closely linked in undergraduate enrollments since the 60s. Let’s look at this in more detail.

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Anthropology in the American disciplinary landscape

evolution of disciplines

I often feel that my discipline, anthropology, doesn’t sufficiently discuss its own structural situation in the academic world. Where do we fit in the ecology of disciplines? In the national competition for student enrollments? How many anthropologists are there, exactly? And what is the structure of our academic labor system; what fraction are tenured, tenure-track, contract, part-time? How many of us work outside the academy? Which departments are dominant or central in our profession?

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increased American interest in philosophy

An article called “In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined,” in the Times, reports that the number of undergraduate philosophy majors is climbing across the country. The interesting thing is that the reasons given for the increase in enrollment are far from traditional justifications for philosophical inquiry. A student at Rutgers, Didi Onejame, is said to think that philosophy “has armed her with the skills to be successful.” What are these skills? “It’s a major that helps them become quick learners and gives them strong skills in writing, analysis and critical thinking,” says the executive director of the APA. Students also, apparently, find it “intellectually rewarding,” “a lot of fun,” good training for asking “larger societal questions,” and a good choice for an era when the job market changes too fast, supposedly, to pick a more reliably marketable field.

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