Academic Elites


Project funded by the Chilean Agency of Research and Development (ANID)

Funding: 2021-2024

Objective. Women and people from lower social classes have historically been underrepresented in the academic bodies of Chilean universities (Brunner, 2012; Chiappa and Perez Mejias, 2019; MINEDUC, 2018). This project aims to analyze to what extent academics in elite positions  allow (or hinder) PhD graduates (hereinafter, PhDs) who are women and/or  come from low social class to enter and progress in the academic profession.
Following Khan’s (2012) definition of elite, this project conceptualizes the status of knowledge elite (EC for its acronym in Spanish) as a selected minority of academics, who, having disproportionate access to the knowledge resource, can convert this resource into other capitals (i.e. better salaries, affiliation to prestigious university,  networks, public visibility), which has repercussions in a position of power and influence in the Chilean academy. The proposed analysis will focus on economics, industrial engineering and law, since these disciplinary fields concentrate the undergraduate careers that educate the country’s economic elite (Villalobos, Quaresma, and Franetic, 2020) and represent different disciplinary cultures (Becher, 1989).

Why it is important to study the knowledge elite in the Chilean context?  After the significant increase of doctoral fellowships funded by the Chilean government (10,000 in the period 2008-2018),  it is expected that there is a greater number of women (MINECON, 2016) and PhDs from lower social classes (CONICYT, 2015 ) competing for academic positions in Chilean universities today. This  sector hires 80% of the doctorate holders in Chile.  In the current socio-political context of social unrest, it would be appropriate to identify how academic elites facilitate and / or prevent the incorporation of women and PhDs from lower social classes.

Theoretical approach.  This project follows the research tradition of  sociology of elites (Khan, 2012, Karabel, 2005; Mills, 1956) and social and cultural reproduction theories (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977; Bourdieu, 1987, 1998), which pose that  higher education institutions serve as fields to reproduce the accumulated advantages of the higher social classes. Likewise, the study uses literature on gender studies (Acker, 1900; Brink and Benshop, 2013; Nielsen, 2013); and disciplinary cultures in academia (Becher, 1989, Lamont, 2009).

Methodology. This project utilizes a mixed-method research approach that progresses from a quantitative phase to a qualitative phase (Creswell and Plano Clark, 2011). The quantitative component includes a stage of identification of the attributes that inform the position of elite in academia (CE). It seeks to estimate the gender effect in the chances of belonging to academic elites in the respective fields of economics, industrial engineering and law, using network analysis and structural equations  techniques ( study 1). The qualitative component includes two studies; one with the academics identified in the EC position, and the other with early career doctorate holders who are women and / or come from lower social class in the same disciplines mentioned above. The first study investigates how  academics  in elite positions (EC) explain their current status and practices for selecting new academics and collaborators (study 2). The second study examines how early career doctorate holders, who completed their PhD in the last five years- and come from lower social class of origin  and/or  are women go about  to develop their academic networks (Study 3).

Expected results. The results of these three studies hope to contribute to the public discussion on the practices used by elites that favor the reproduction of inequality in the academy and in other social sectors. 

See project summary in Spanish