Academic Elites


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

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). The objective of this project is to analyze to what extent academics in elite positions in the Chilean academy 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 defines the status of knowledge elite (CE) as a select minority of academics, who, having disproportionate access to the knowledge resource, can convert this resource into other capitals (eg better salaries , affiliation of 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 the disciplines of economics, industrial engineering and law, since they 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 increase in the number of doctoral scholarships financed by the Chilean government (10,000 scholarships in the period 2008-2018), it is estimated that there are a greater number of women (MINECON, 2016) and PhDs from lower social classes (CONICYT, 2015 ) competing for academic positions in Chilean universities; sector that hires 80% of the population with doctoral studies in the country. In the current socio-political context of social outbreak, it would be appropriate to identify how knowledge elites facilitate and / or prevent the incorporation of women and PhDs from lower social classes.
Theoretical approach. The realization of this study is inspired by the sociology of elites (Khan, 2012, Karabel, 2005; Mills, 1956) and social and cultural reproduction theories (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977; Bourdieu, 1987, 1998), which conceive the institutions higher education as reproducers of 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. A mixed sequential methodology is used 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 knowledge elite (CE) and estimation of the gender effect in belonging to knowledge elites in economics, industrial engineering and law, through network analysis and structural equations ( study 1). The qualitative component includes two studies; one with the academics identified in the EC position, and the other with early career doctors who are women and / or come from lower social class. Both consider doctors in the same disciplines mentioned above. The first study investigates how EC academics explain their elite position and practices for selecting new academics and collaborators (study 2). The second examines the effect of social class of origin and gender on networking processes with EC academics among early career PhDs, who completed their PhD in the last five years (Study 3).
Expected results. The results of these three studies hope to contribute to the public discussion on the practices of the elites that favor the reproduction of inequality in the academy and in other social sectors. In terms of productivity, three articles published in mainstream journals (SCOPUS or Web of Science journals) are committed, and three participations in scientific congresses abroad. In addition, four outputs are committed: (a) workshops on transparent recruitment practices in academia; (b) a colloquium on elites, networks and academia; (c) an international webinar on the careers of academics in emerging economies; (d) infographics of the three studies aimed at a non-academic audience.