Academic Autonomy Beyond the Nation-State

The Social Sciences and Humanities in the European Research Council
  • Christian Baier
  • Vincent Gengnagel


The social sciences and humanities (SSH) traditionally have a close relationship to the nation-state and there are substantial disciplinary differences across countries. Drawing on Bourdieu’s theory of the academic field, the present article examines how academic autonomy and heteronomy are applied as discursive strategies as the SSH compete for funding in the transnational European arena established by the European Research Council (ERC). To this end, we analyze mission statements of ERC Starting Grant projects in the SSH, using a mixed methods approach of statistical text analysis (topic modeling) and qualitative content analysis. Although the ERC puts the SSH under the constraints of academic capitalism, the classical humanities secure a strong position by signaling academic autonomy and engaging in the construction and consecration of European culture. However, economics and other social sciences gravitate toward a more heteronomous self-representation, emphasizing the political and social utility of their research, while disciplines like neuro-science and psychology exhibit self-representations closely related to the “hard sciences”—and relatively alien to the SSH.


Social sciences Humanities Academic autonomy Bourdieu ERC Topic model 

Akademische Autonomie jenseits des Nationalstaats

Die Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften im Europäischen Forschungsrat


Die Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften (SSH) stehen traditionell in enger Beziehung zum Nationalstaat, und im Ländervergleich bestehen erhebliche disziplinäre Unterschiede. Ausgehend von Bourdieus Theorie des akademischen Feldes untersucht der vorliegende Aufsatz, wie Signale akademischer Autonomie und Heteronomie als diskursive Strategien im durch den ERC etablierten transnationalen Wettbewerb um Forschungsgelder eingesetzt werden. Hierzu analysieren wir die mission statements von ERC-Starting-Grant-Projekten in den SSH mithilfe einer Kombination qualitativer Inhaltsanalyse und statistischer Textanalyse (topic modeling). Obwohl das im ERC vorherrschende Paradigma des akademischen Kapitalismus die Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften unter Druck setzt, gelingt es insbesondere den klassischen Geisteswissenschaften durch ihre Mitarbeit an der Konstruktion und Konsekration einer europäischen Kultur eine starke Position zu besetzen. Die Ökonomie und andere Sozialwissenschaften tendieren demgegenüber zu einer heteronomen Selbstdarstellung und betonen den politischen und gesellschaftlichen Nutzen ihrer Forschung, während Disziplinen wie die Neuro-Wissenschaft und Psychologie eine an die „hard sciences“ angelehnte, für die SSH recht ungewöhnliche Selbstdarstellung an den Tag legen.


Sozialwissenschaften Geisteswissenschaften Akademische Autonomie Bourdieu ERC Topic Model 



We would like to thank both anonymous reviewers as well as Stephanie Beyer for their thorough reading and helpful comments.


  1. Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London, New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  2. Beck, Ulrich. 2007. The cosmopolitan condition: why methodological nationalism fails. Theory, Culture & Society 24(7–8):286–290. Scholar
  3. Blei, David M. 2012. Probabilistic topic models. Communications of the ACM 55(4):77. Scholar
  4. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. The logic of practice. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1992. Homo academicus. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  6. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1996. The rules of art: genesis and structure of the literary field. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. Vom Gebrauch der Wissenschaft. Konstanz: UVK.Google Scholar
  8. Bourdieu, Pierre. 2014. Über den Staat: Vorlesungen am Collège de France 1989–1992. Berlin: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  9. Calligaro, Oriane. 2013. Negotiating Europe. EU promotion of Europeanness. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chessa, Alessandro, et al, 2013. Is europe evolving toward an integrated research area? Science 339(6120):650–651. Scholar
  11. ERC. 2015. Work programme 2015—annex to the decision European commission C(2014)5008 of 22 July 2014. Accessed 11 Apr 2014.Google Scholar
  12. ERCEA. 2017. European Research Council Executive Agency: ERC Frontier Research Grants. Information for Applicants to the Advanced Grant 2017 Call. Accessed December 2017.Google Scholar
  13. EURECIA. 2012. Understanding and assessing the impact and outcomes of the ERC and its funding schemes. Final synthesis report. Accessed December 2017.Google Scholar
  14. Flink, Tim. 2016. Die Entstehung des Europäischen Forschungsrates: Marktimperative – Geostrategie – Frontier Research. Weilerswist: Velbrück.Google Scholar
  15. Gengnagel, Vincent. 2014. Beiträge zu einer politischen Soziologie transnationaler Felder. Berliner Journal für Soziologie 24(2):289–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gengnagel, Vincent, and Julian Hamann. 2014. The making and persisting of modern German humanities. Balancing acts between autonomy and social relevance. In The modern humanities The Making of the Humanities, Vol. III, ed. Rens Bod, Jaap Maat, and Thijs Weststeijn, 641–654. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Gengnagel, Vincent, Nilgun Massih-Tehrani, and Christian Baier. 2016a. Der European research council als Ordnungsanspruch des europäischen Projekts im akademischen Feld. Berliner Journal für Soziologie 26(1):61–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gengnagel, Vincent, Daniel Witte, and Andreas Schmitz. 2016b. Die zwei Gesichter der Autonomie. In Macht in Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft, ed. Julian Hamann, Jens Maeße, Vincent Gengnagel, and Alexander Hirschfeld, 383–423. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.Google Scholar
  19. Georgakakis, Didier, and Jay Rowell. 2013. The field of Eurocracy: mapping EU actors and professionals. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Griffiths, Thomas L., and Mark Steyvers. 2004. Finding scientific topics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(Suppl. 1):5228–5235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grün, Bettina, and Kurt Hornik. 2011. Topicmodels: an R package for fitting topic models. Journal of Statistical Software 40(13): Scholar
  22. Hobsbawm, Eric J. 1996. The age of revolution: Europe 1789–1848. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.Google Scholar
  23. Hönig, Barbara. 2014. The making of ‘excellence’ in the European research area: how research funding organizations work. In Knowledge for whom?, ed. Christian Fleck, Andreas Hess, 127–146. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  24. Hönig, Barbara. 2017. Europe’s new scientific elite: social mechanisms of science in the European research area. Abingdon, New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Kant, Immanuel. 1996. The conflict of the faculties. In Religion and rational theology, 233–328. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kauppi, Niilo. 2013. A political sociology of transnational Europe. Essex: ECPR Press.Google Scholar
  27. Kauppi, Niilo, and David Madsen. 2013. Transnational power elites: the new professionals of governance, law and security. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. König, Thomas. 2017. The European research council. Cambridge, Malden: Polity.Google Scholar
  29. Lebaron, Frédéric. 2000. The space of economic neutrality: types of legitimacy and trajectories of central bank managers. International Journal of Contemporary Sociology 37(2):208–229.Google Scholar
  30. Luukkonen, Terrttu. 2014. The European research council and the European research funding landscape. Science and Public Policy 41(1):29–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Massih-Tehrani, Nilgun, Christian Baier, and Vincent Gengnagel. 2015. EU-Forschungsförderung im deutschen Hochschulraum: Universitäten zwischen Wissensökonomie und akademischer Selbstbestimmung. Soziale Welt 66(1):55–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mayring, Philipp. 2000. Qualitative Content Analysis. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research 1, Nr. 2. Accessed December 2017.Google Scholar
  33. Mudge, Stephanie L., and Antoine Vauchez. 2016. Fielding supranationalism: the European central bank as a field effect. The Sociological Review Monographs 64(2):146–169. Scholar
  34. Münch, Richard. 2014. Academic capitalism. Universities in the global struggle for excellence. London & New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  35. Nedeva, Maria. 2013. Between the global and the national: organising European science. Research Policy 42:220–230. Scholar
  36. Nowotny, Helga. 2013. Preserve the European research council’s legacy. Nature 504:189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ringer, Fritz. 1990. The intellectual field, intellectual history, and the sociology of knowledge. Theory and Society 19(3):269–294. Scholar
  38. Schmitz, Andreas, Daniel Witte, and Vincent Gengnagel. 2017. Pluralizing field analysis: Toward a relational understanding of the field of power. Social Science Information/information Sur Les Sciences Sociales 56(1):49–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Shumway, David R. 1998. Nationalist nnowledges: the humanities and nationality. Poetics Today 19:357–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Slaughter, Sheila, and Brendan Cantwell. 2012. Transatlantic moves to the market: the United States and the European Union. Higher Education 63(5):583–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Slaughter, Sheila, and Gary Rhoades. 2004. Academic capitalism and the new economy: markets, state, and higher education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Steinmetz, George. 1999. State/culture: state-formation after the cultural turn. The wilder house series in politics, history, and culture. Ithaca: Cornell Universtity Press.Google Scholar
  43. Vauchez, Antoine, and Bruno de Witte. 2013. Lawyering Europe: European law as a transnational social field. Oxford United, Kingdom; Portland, Oregon: Hart Pub.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bayerisches Landesamt für StatistikFürthGermany
  2. 2.Department of Society and Governance StudiesZeppelin University FriedrichshafenFriedrichshafenGermany

Personalised recommendations