Date published:

Autonomy vs. heteronomy: Two models of top researchers in Polish academic institutions

Stanisław Krawczyk, Krystian Szadkowski, Emanuel Kulczycki: „Identifying top researchers in highly metricized academia: two discursive strategies of senior officials in Poland”, „Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education”.

DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2021.1993792

For decades now, many states have been reforming their universities, emphasizing the economic logic of competition and profitability. This logic is realized with tools that measure the quality of research. The amount of state funding received by academic institutions depends on the evaluation scores of their employees. This is why the senior officials of universities, faculties, or institutes encourage the researchers in these institutions to publish works that bring the biggest measurable gains. (An example of such an encouragement is the IDUB program, within which the paper discussed here is promoted.)

The efficiency of this mechanism relies on formal regulations (state law, institutional procedures), but also on the attitudes of researchers and managers. If the academics do not internalize the new values and the new rules of the game, the reforms will be ineffective. And the process of change is not easy, since the logic of economy – particularly in its neoliberal variant – is in conflict with the traditional logic of the scholarly world. The postulates of effectiveness and accountability are rarely welcomed by those academics who are devoted to the idea of disinterested pursuit of knowledge.The aforementioned conflict can be seen, among other things, in how each side creates the model of a top researcher. It is this process that is the subject of the presented paper, which employes the sociological theory of an influential French scholar Pierre Bourdieu. The authors examine the transcripts of 22 in-depth interviews with Polish rectors, deans, and directors of the institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences. These data are used to reconstruct two models of top researchers, corresponding to the economic logic and to the logic of academic autonomy. The authors also study the signs of tension resulting from the interviewees’ work in the situation in which two divergent academic visions collide. The paper demonstrates various ways to deal with this tension, such as the phenomenon called “the discursive split”. It occurs when an interviewee refers interchangeably to both sets of norms and values but does not try to reconcile them, at the same time expressing the experienced tension in strong emotional and moral formulations.

The paper is not a direct voice in the discussion concerning the shape of the university. However, it is an attempt to highlight certain aspects of this discussion. In particular, the authors observe that the customary way of using the concept of academic autonomy – which underscores the importance of the free choice of research aims, independent from the immediate pressures of the state or the market – only allows noticing some of the threats to the university’s independence. Other threats can be grasped, for instance, thanks to such theoretical concepts and research procedures as the ones applied in the paper in question.