Academic capitalism: distinguishing without disjoining through classification schemes

  • Tiago Fonseca Albuquerque Cavalcanti SigahiEmail author
  • Patrícia Saltorato


Academic capitalism (AC) has become one of the most influential lines of research into markets in higher education (HE). However, researchers often use AC only as an umbrella term while key concepts remain superficially explored and intertwined topics treated disjointed. By means of a systematic literature review, our main contribution is the proposal of two classification schemes based on (a) analytical levels (macrostructural, organizational, and individual) and actors, and (b) themes and contributions (Exploration and reflection; Creation of theoretical framework; Research topics and applications; New trends). The idea that underlies both proposals is distinguishing without disjoining. Distinguishing is an operation that researchers can benefit from, while disjoining risks leading to blindness by not capturing the complexity of AC. Distinguishing analytical levels and actors provides a clearer view of how actors position themselves in the field, how they interconnect, and how their actions resonate at other levels. Distinguishing themes and contributions allows categorizing the wealth of research into smaller units for deeper analysis. Both contribute to researchers in positioning their theoretical contributions in the literature. This study may advance research not only on AC, but also in understanding the several ways the neoliberal restructure has been playing out in HE.


Academic capitalism Commoditization of science Corporatization of higher education Knowledge economy Literature review 



The authors would like to express their gratitude to Robert Austin, Milena Serafim, Cleyton Ferrarini, and Laerte Sznelwar for their comments on early versions of the manuscript and to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions.

Funding information

This work is part of the project “Neoliberalism and the Construction of the National Higher Education Market” funded by Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES).

Supplementary material

10734_2019_467_MOESM1_ESM.docx (73 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 73 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tiago Fonseca Albuquerque Cavalcanti Sigahi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patrícia Saltorato
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Studies in Economic SociologyUniversity of São PauloSão PauloBrazil
  2. 2.Center for Studies in Economic SociologyFederal University of São CarlosSorocabaBrazil

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