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Studies in Higher Education Volume 19, No. 2, 1994 151
The Significance of Disciplinary
Differences
TONY BECHER
University of Sussex
ABSTRACT Although it is evident that disciplines have their distinctive cultural characteristics, this
consideration tends to be largely overlooked in research into, as well as policy-making within, higher
education. The paper aims to draw attention to some of the resulting inadequacies in analysis and
to explore their consequences. After offering an overview of the various disciplinary cultures, it
examines different facets of academic activity at the macro, meso and micro levels and suggests that
in each case the differences between disciplines are important enough to merit general recognition. The
author concludes with a brief speculation on why the issue is so widely neglected.
Introduction
The central concem of this paper is to explore some of the key distinctions between different
disciplines, and the implications of such distinctions for higher education research, policy and
practice. It is arguable that disciplines are the life-blood of higher education: alongside
academic institutions, they provide its main organising base (Clark, 1983) and its main social
framework. This makes it the more puzzling that they figure so modestly in much higher
education research. There are notable exceptions, some of which will shortly be mentioned.
The arguments in this paper, however, derive mainly from two long-term empirical investigations
undertaken by the author. The first, which occupied most of the period from 1980 to
1988 (Becher, 1989), involved a study of research norms and practices in 12 contrasting
disciplinary fields (biology, chemistry, economics, engineering, geography, history, law,
mathematics, modem languages, pharmacy, physics and sociology). The second, which
began in 1988 and was completed in 1993, focused specifically on the issue of graduate
education in six of the same fields. Altogether, some 350 in-depth, semi-structured interviews
with academics and research students provided the main data for the two studies.
The outcomes of these enquiries suggest, among other things, that knowledge communities
can usefully be categorised at four different levels of generality. First, there is the broad
level of the academic profession as a whole. Even though, as Bailey (1977) notes, universities
are composed of different tribes, they nevertheless operate as “a community culture”:
Each tribe has a name and a territory, settles it own affairs, goes to war with others,
has a distinct language or at least a distinct dialect and a variety of symbolic ways
of demonstrating its aparmess from others. Nevertheless the whole set of tribes
possess a common culture: their ways of construing the world and the people who
live in it are sufficiently similar for them to be able to understand, more or less, each
other’s culture and even, when necessary, to communicate with members of other
tribes. Universities possess a single culture which directs interaction between the
many distinct and often mutually hostile groups.
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152 T. Becher
TABLE I. Broad disciplinary groupings
Biglan Kolb Disciplinary areas
Hard pure Abstract reflective Natural sciences
Soft pure Concrete reflective Humanities and social sciences
Hard applied Abstract active Science-based professions
Soft applied Concrete active Social professions
Harman (1990), too, notes in her cultural study of the University of Melbourne that
“Detected from an emerging babel of conflicting voices, divergent interests and divided
loyalties, were aspects of a common culture which encapsulated a deeply entrenched,
‘unwritten’ occupational ethos”.
But if one examines this community in more detail, it is possible to discern with Biglan
(1973) and Kolb (1981), four main intellectual clusters, which Biglan labels hard pure, soft
pure, hard applied and soft applied, and Kolb describes as abstract reflective, concrete
reflective, abstract active and concrete active. In each case these divisions are identified
respectively with the natural sciences, the humanities and social sciences, the science-based
professions and the social professions (see Table 1). The coincidence of their analyses is
significant, given that Biglan’s initial concem was with the nature of the subject-matter of
research, while Kolb’s was with styles of intellectual enquiry.
Within this fourfold typology one can further distinguish the separate disciplines and
professional groupings. Here, though there are some tricky borderline cases, there is also a
very significant consensus about what counts as a discipline and what does not. While some
analysts (e.g. Toulmin, 1972) focus on epistemological considerations, presenting disciplines
as each characterised by its body of concepts, methods and fimdamental aims, and others
such as Whitley (1984) define them as organised social groupings, most agree with Price
(1970) in seeing both elements as essential–“we cannot and should not artificially separate
the matter of substantive content from that of social behaviour”.
Below the level of the discipline, there remains the important category of subdisciplinary
specialisms, with their own more closely-knit but constantly shifting communities. Bucher &
Strauss (1961) characterise them as “loose amalgamations … pursuing different objectives in
different manners and more or tess delicately held together under a common name at a
particular period in history”. It is at least arguable (Becher, 1990) that an understanding of
the characteristics of such subspecialisms is essential to an appreciation not only of their
parent disciplines but atso of interdisciplinarity and of the phenomena of intellectual change
and development.
However, the discussion which follows will be limited to the second and third levels of
analysis–namely the four broad intellectual groupings mentioned earlier and the separate
disciplines and professional fields of which they are comprised. Before embarking on the
detail of the argaament, it may be useful to make a further preliminary comment on the
concept of culture and the notion of a discipline.
In its technical sense, culture is to the anthropologist a fundamental concept. It
embodies the traditional and social heritage of a people; their customs and practices; their
transmitted knowledge, beliefs, law and morals; their linguistic and symbolic forms of
communication and the meanings they share. As Bailey (1992) puts it, “a culture … is a set
of mental constructs that may serve to guide or justify conduct between people, and to tell
them how to use things … it may also tell them how to get from what is to what should be;
that is, in one of its aspects culture is a plan for coping with the world”.
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Significance of Disciplinary Differences 153
This rich notion has necessarily to be weakened into metaphor when the subject of study
is one part of the way of life of a group of twentieth century academics, rather than the total
world view of a relatively isolated primitive community. However, the concept of culture as
developed in social anthropology does have considerable relevance to the understanding of
higher education. As the well-known American anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1976)
pointed out, “to be a Shakespearean scholar, absorb oneself in black holes, or attempt to
measure the effect of schooling on economic achievement–is not just to take up a technical
task but to place oneself inside a cultural frame that defines and even determines a very great
part of one’s life”. I have argued at some length elsewhere (Becher, 1989) that disciplinary
groups can usefully be regarded as academic tribes, each with their own set of intellectual
values and their own patch of cognitive territory. Anthropologists commonly make a distinction
between cultural and structural elements, the latter including status differences, relationships
and boundaries–but in what follows the term ‘culture’ will be used in its broader, more
everyday sense to include both culture and structure.
Knowledge Fields and Cognitive Communities
The cultural aspects of disciplines and their cognitive aspects are inseparably intertwined.
The pattern of relationships is complex, and few of the connections are unconditional. Both
individual and group behaviour can be affected by factors outside the field of knowledge
itself. In certain cases, moreover, a cultural phenomenon may best be understood in terms of
an arbitrary convention. But in very many instances, disciplinary practices can be closely
matched with the relevant characteristics of their associated domains of enquiry. Simply to
illustrate the point, Table II offers a sketch, within the framework of broad disciplinary
groupings, of the kind of correlation one might expect to find between the nature of
knowledge domains and the nature of the associated disciplinary cultures.
The linkage becomes noticeably close at the level of individual disciplines and closer still
when the analysis is in terms of subdisciplinary specialisms. Thus, for example, the close-knit
epistemological structure of high energy physics research is mirrored by the fast-moving,
competitive, densely populated–one might say urban–research community associated with
that field. Equally, the loosely-structured intellectual arenas of modern languages are
reflected in the leisurely uncompetitive pace and scattered rural societies of the related
specialist groups.
However, this isomorphism between knowledge fields and knowledge communities is
not the only significant feature of the study of disciplinary cultures. Another important
characteristic is their high degree of universality. Disciplinary cultures, in virtually all fields,
transcend the institutional boundaries within any given system. In many, but not all,
instances they also span national boundaries. That this is the case can be seen through the
existence of national, and often international, subiect associations which embody collective
norms and exercise an informal control on undergraduate and graduate curricula, as well as
providing a shared context for research. It can also be observed in the easy mobility of
academic staff from one institution to another; the common readership of academic texts
(whether books or iournals); the frequent informal communication between individuals in
different geographical locations; the existence of international conferences; and the incidence
of collaborative enquiry which involves researchers in more than one university (and often
more than one country).
To say this is not to deny that there may be differences in research traditions, profiles of
undergraduate programmes and the like between one national system and another, or that
some fields (such as law, and to a somewhat lesser extent history) may have a more parochial
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TABLE II. Knowledge and culture, by disciplinary grouping
Disciplinary grouping Nature of knowledge Nature of disciplinary culture
k/1
to
Pure sciences (e.g. physics):
‘hard-pure’
Humanities (e.g. history) and pure social
sciences (e.g. anthropology): %oft-pure’
Technologies (e,g, mechanical engineering):
‘hard-applied’
Applied social sciences (e.g. education):
‘soft-applied’
Cumulative; atomistic (crystalline/
tree-like); concerned with universals,
quantities, simplification; resulting in
discovery/explanation.
Reiterative; holistic (organic/river-like);
concerned with particulars, qualities,
complication; resulting in understanding/
interpretation.
Purposive; pragmatic (know-how via
hard knowledge); concerned with mastery
of physical environment; resulting in
products/techniques.
Functional; ulitarian (know-how via soft
knowledge); concerned with enhancement
of [semi-] professional practice;
resulting in protocols/procedures.
Competitive, gregarious; politically
well-organized; high publication rate;
task-oriented.
Individualistic, pturastic; loosely
structured; low publication rate; personoriented.
Entrepreneurial, cosmopolitan;
dominated by professional values; patents
substitutable for publications; role
oriented.
Outward-looking; uncertain in status;
dominated by intellectual fashions;
publication rates reduced by
consultances; power-oriented.
Source: Becher (1987).
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Significance of Disciplinary Differences 155
frame of reference than others. Ruscio (1987) has helpfully illustrated the point by using the
biological analogy of a genotype and a phenotype:
the genotype represents the fundamental instructions to the organism and its
potential for survival and growth; the phenotype represents the actual manifestation
of that potential in a particular physical setting.
His research shows that, even between different institutions in the same system, the phenotypical
variations can be substantial, but that one can nonetheless clearly identify genotypical
cultures endemic to each discipline.
In what follows, attention will be given to a number of more practical considerations
relating to research and policy in higher education which it is the main concern of this paper
to adumbrate. These will for convenience by divided between the categories of macro, meso
and micro enquiries, relating respectively to system-wide issues, those at the level of the
institution, and those focusing on basic units and individuals.
The Macro Level
Comparative studies in higher education tend to focus on macro-level contrasts between the
structures of one system and another. Few of them offer the kind of illuminating comparison
between particular institutions in different countries which Friedburg & Musselin (1989)
provide in their En Qu~te d’Universitd. Even fewer appear to have penetrated down to the level
of individual departments, where a cross-national study can tell us interesting things about
the differing patterns in the working lives of the inhabitants of academia in different countries
and provide concrete and specific data about the common and contrasting factors which
shape research profiles and graduate and undergraduate curricula. Clark (1993) offers one
example of such an approach. If anything, enquiries of this kind should be made easier by the
existence of a relatively common framework of disciplinary contents and conventions. Much
as in the Annales school of histo~which explores the commonplace of everyday existence,
as against the more traditional history of rulers and revolutionaries and of wars between
nations–studies of this kind would seem to offer an immediacy that many system-wide
comparisons lack.
As in much comparative research, a consideration of disciplinary differences rarely
figures in nationally-based macro-level enquiries in higher education. There accordingly
remain some important issues to be explored in this arena. For example, the relationship of
universities with society at large tends to be discussed in global terms: but such discussion is
liable to conceal or overlook significant internal distinctions.
Even at the level of the four broad knowledge fields identified earlier, one can discern
certain characteristic features of that relationship which affect the nature of research suport.
Academic enquiry in hard pure fields is liable to be expensive, giving rise to an effective lobby
for fund raising; however, that very dependence on outside money lays any such field open
to demands for social relevance and hence to what Elzinga (1985) has termed “epistemic
drift”. Hard applied fields show a more diffused pattern of activity, with mainly pragmatic
research criteria’; but there is also a tendency to aim for increased status by favouring the
more theoretical, less instrumental aspects of the domain–a form of “academic drift”
(Neave, 1979) which is the counterpart to the epistemic drift already noted in the hard pure
domain.
When it comes to soft pure enquiry, the outside world tends to view much scholarly work
as lacking any wider social justification, and as neither needing nor deserving any significant
financial support. In the more empirical social science disciplines, external factors may well
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156 T. Becher
affect the pattern of research activity, but the impact of research on practice is seldom very
direct. Within the soft pure domain as a whole, the tendency is towards individualised work,
and subject-based interest groups which form a bridge to outside constituencies are correspondingly
weak. The interplay between society and academia here is limited largely to the
context of popular and moderately esoteric culture. Finally, soft applied activity presents a
different pattern again. Because of their overlapping membership with the academic community,
the relevant professional practitioners’ associations often have a strong say in
determining curricula as well as setting the agenda for research. Client groups may also in
some cases seek to exert their influence. In general, perceived relevance is a strong criterion
for determining funding support in this group of disciplines, which is thus particularly
vulnerable to external pressure.
Such observations are themselves open to refinement, lumping together as they do a
number of distinct disciplinary groups. They nevertheless serve to underline the point that
interesting contrasts emerge once one explores phenomena below the macro level at which all
such variations are homogenised. Leaving aside the temptation to chart in close detait the
interrelationship between individual disciplinary groups and their external environment, it
may be noted that one interesting dimension of this interrelationship concerns the opportunities
for different university departments–the organisational embodiment, one might say, of
academic disciplines–to engage in sponsored mid-career vocational training.
It is noticeable that in almost every institution the pace in developing such training is set
by the departments of engineering and business studies: an unsurprising phenomenon, given
the ready saleability of their wares and the extent of the existing contracts with their
practitioner clients. The apparent reluctance of chemists to become involved calls for further
investigation, in that they have traditionally quite strong links with industry. It is perhaps
predictable that physicists are reticent, though biological scientists are less so; and as one
might expect, many professional schools besides engineering contribute either directly or
indirectly (through the individual ‘moonlighting activities’ of their members) to the post-experience
training of the relevant practitioner groups. More unexpected examples of what
might be called contract education include sponsored courses by philosophers on professional
ethics, training in the management of historical sites by a department of economic history and
cultural briefing courses provided by a department of oriental languages for businessmen
planning to visit Japan (Becher, 1992).
Such non-traditional forms of teaching provision, incidentally, seem likely to have
significant financial and curricular implications for the departments concerned–first in
earning them surplus funds to enhance their research potential and second in bringing into
the undergraduate programme up-to-date illustrations of contemporary professional practices.
There is also some evidence to suggest an improvement in teaching techniques and staff
motivation.
A comparable contrast can be observed between different disciplinary groups in relation
to contract research, where departments in hard applied and soft applied areas are able to
earn substantial funds by undertaking sponsored work, while faculty in hard pure areas tend
to see this as low-status activity, and others against in soft pure domains seldom have any
opportunity to contemplate the choice. The consequences in terms of academic working lives
are evident enough. Those who involve themselves in such activities necessarily have closer
contacts with the outside world, which they are able to exploit in a variety of ways, including
offering their graduates a wider range of job opportunities and using additional earnings to
improve departmental resources.
Two widely researched themes at the macro level are access studies and investigations of
the labour market. Here again, an awareness of disciplinary distinctions is arguably of key
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Significance of Disciplinary Differences 157
importance. Gender contrasts in higher education have been the subject of considerable
recent attention. Yet leaving aside the useful contributions of Thomas (1990) and Evans
(1988), there have been few attempts to examine the relationship between gender preferences
and the characteristic cultures of disciplines. The large-scale rejection by women of scientific
and technological subjects and their strong preference for the humanities is a source of
concern in terms of equal opportunities. The issue might usefully be illuminated by close
examination of the underlying cultural factors.
More generally, in systems such as that of the UK, where entry to higher education is to
some degree competitive, the admission requirements differ markedly, not only between
institutions (with Oxford and Cambridge at the top of the pecking order and some of the
newly-designated universities towards the bottom) but also between individual subject fields.
Places in business studies, history and English literature departments, for example, are
heavily oversubscribed; those in mathematics, physics and engineering tend to have relatively
fewer takers. This inevitably means that access to the latter group of subjects is much easier
than to the former, in which even quite well-qualified candidates may not get a place. It
would be interesting to explore whether the pattern of demand is at all similar in other
European countries.
When it comes to graduate employment, the position–again in the UK–is neatly
reversed. Physical scientists and mathematicians have relatively little difficulty, even in
recession, in finding jobs; graduates in the humanities and even in business studies (which
does not seem a greatly attractive degree to employers) may spend some time seeking a
suitable post. And of course vocational programmes, such as medicine and law offer a strong
guarantee of lifelong professional career. Boys et aL (1988) offer one particularly interesting
study of how disciplines relate to labour market opportunities and how their epistemological
and cultural characteristics affect the development of skills which are transferable into the
work place. Research of this kind demonstrates in an effective way the benefits, even in
macro-level enquiries, of attending to disciplinary differences.
The Meso Level
Similar benefits can be seen at the meso level, especially in studies of institutional management
and in the development of evaluation procedures. There is a tendency–which a proper
attention to disciplinary cultures can help to check–for administrators to lay down uniform
specifications to be observed across the whole range of departments, even where these are
clearly inappropriate. For example, areas for institutional growth and expansion may be
identified by reference to high research earnings, even though the opportunities for these are
not evenly distributed. Such a criterion would discriminate strongly in favour of expensive
areas such as physics and equally strongly against low cost areas such as philosophy.
Again, staff promotions criteria based on numbers of published titles would have a clear
bias in favour of chemistry (where it is common to publish several short papers in a year) and
against history (where the norm is to produce substantial books rather than journal articles).
Professional subjects, too, tend to have a low publication profile, because the academic staff
concerned are expected to maintain their credibility through involvement in consultancies, or
more directly in practice, at the expense of publishable research. Virtually every performance
indicator for both research and teaching can in fact be shown to operate unevenly across the
range of disciplines, leaving peer review as the only reasonably fair mechanism for performance
evaluation.
The outcomes of managerial policies to enhance the efficiency of teaching and learning
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158 T. Becher
have in the past often proved disappointing. Faculty development programmes, for instance,
tend to lose credibility with their potential clients because of their discipline-independent
approach. It is of course useful to put across to all academic teachers the basic principles of
good lecturing–though even here, there is a world of difference between the techniques
needed in, say, an anatomy course and one in literature. But beyond the limited area of
common ground, there is a wide variety of different needs: seminar teaching in the humanities,
overseeing field-work exercises in geography or biology, planning laboratory-based
teaching in physics and chemistry, organising and supervising work placements in engineering,
developing project-based activities in architecture and so on. It is difficult to see how
faculty development can go beyond the most elementary level without a clear recognition that
disciplinary cultures impose their own particular pattern in teaching as in other activities. Yet
neither practice nor the evaluation of practice commonly takes account of such variations.
A similar problem arises with study skills programmes for students. Many of these, too,
are general in nature and seen as of limited use by participants. As Bazerman (1981) points
out, the whole mode of argumentation differs radically between such fields as biochemistry,
English literature and the sociology of science. To begin fully to understand the subject, it is
necessary to immerse oneself in the structure of its discourse: and that cannot be achieved by
a few broadly-based sessions on how to write an essay. Other techniques commonly addressed
in such courses include the development of rapid reading methods and the acquisition
of bibliographical skills. Yet the former–rapid reading–is of notably less use to
students of mathematics and philosophy than it is to prospective historians and sociologists,
while the latter–bibliographical skills–are of much greater demand in the humanities than
they are in professional subjects such as accountancy or nursing.
Curriculum design in its turn encounters quite distinctive needs across the range of
subiects. There are certain principles in common, but–to take one instance–an objectivesbased
approach is much more easy to implement in a professional subject with clear-cut
requirements than in a course which depends on an integrative understanding of complex
interrelationships. Similarly, courses with a high factual content–as in certain areas of
law–may appropriately be assessed by multiple choice tests; but the latter are entirely
unsuitable for subjects such as sociology, where the emphasis tends to be on the need to
decide between competing theories and to justify that decision. Again, pure and applied
research on the topic tends to overlook these distinctions.
The Micro Level
At the micro level of activities within individual departments, there are also noticeable
contrasts in the modes of both research and teaching. To take only a few examples, research
in chemistry tends to involve teams comprising tenured staff, post-doctoral staff, doctoral
students and technicians, and is of course heavily dependent on laboratory apparatus and
accommodation. At the other end of the spectrum, research in mathematics typically involves
a solitary researcher armed with no more than a desk, paper and pencil, and perhaps
blackboard and chalk. Effective research training should necessarily take such differences into
account. So should general studies of the nature of academic enquiry.
Similarly–as has already been implied in relation to study skills–patterns of student
activity span a continuum from the heavily didactic in subjects such as law, engineering and
medicine to the determinedly participative in modem languages and the creative arts.
Students in the first group of subjects are liable to have full lecture timetables and to work
long hours, but with relatively few individual assignments; in the second group, the pace is
more leisurely, with relatively less timetabled time and more personal study commitments.
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Significance of Disciplinary Differences 159
Such differences can be related partly to the social aspects of the discipline concerned (‘we’ve
always done it that way’) and partly to their epistemological characteristics (‘that’s how it has
to be–you can’t understand it otherwise’).
Graduate education in its turn clearly reflects such differentiation. Recent research
(Clark, 1993) has shown that–at least the USA and the UK, though the pattern is somewhat
different in some European countries–while doctoral students share many problems, there
are also a number of subject-specific features of their programmes. Thesis topics in science
are typically specified by the supervisor; in the humanities, there is a strong insistence on
students making their own choice. When things go wrong in the sciences it may be because
of difficulties with apparatus or because a particular technique does not work; in the
humanities, the most common failings are lack of adequate definition of the research issue or
an excess of data to analyse. Loneliness and a lack of adequate supervisory support are typical
concerns of humanities graduate students; being used as a ‘general dogsbody’ is the main
source of dissatisfaction for their counterparts in the sciences.
Another current area of interest at the micro level–an important component in the study
of institutional management–is the role of the head of department. In the analysis of this
issue too, it would seem impossible to overlook or brush aside disciplinary differences. There
is a very significant contrast in both range and scale between the responsibilities on the one
side of the head of a philosophy department of eight academics and a secretary and on the
other of the head of a chemistry department of 30 or more academics and probably a
comparable number of technical and secretarial staff, who is accountable for the equipment,
provision and running of a number of teaching and research laboratories. It is perhaps
understandable that, in the UK at least (Taylor, 1992), the choice ofvice-chancellor or rector
is increasingly made from science or technology, rather than the humanities or social
sciences, on the grounds of relevant previous managerial experience.
If macro and meso research display a tendency to overlook the significance of disciplinary
cultures, enquiries at the micro level would appear less prone to this limitation. The
reason is simple enough; many such enquiries are focused on an individual department, and
those who conduct them do not overtly make the assumption that there is no significant
cultural or operational difference between one department and another. However, the
specificity of their findings is not always acknowledged, and this encourages other researchers
to draw wider conclusions from their work than the evidence should allow. An effective way
of avoiding this difficulty is to extend the research base to cover more than one discipline, so
that useful contrasts can be drawn. Ference Marton and his associates provide an excellent
model for this approach, investigating student learning in settings as different as economics
and engineering (See, for example, Marton et al., 1984).
The Case of Discipline-focused Research
The arguments so far have attempted to show that an awareness of disciplinary cultures is
helpful, and even in some cases essential, to the conduct of research and the development of
policy in higher education. That is so at the macro level, which could be said to include
comparative studies as well as studies, for instance, focusing on the relationships between
universities and their external environment, on access problems, and on the labour market for
graduates. At the meso level differences between disciplines, it was suggested, are relevant to
enquiries into, and the development of, such themes as institutional management, staff
evaluation, faculty development, study skills programmes and curriculum design. At the
micro level, attention was drawn to variations in departmental practice in research and
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160 T. Becher
teaching, including graduate education, and to the contrasting roles of heads of departments
in different subject areas.
Given what could be claimed to be the pervasiveness of this theme of disciplinary
cultures across the whole range of enquiry into higher education, it is tempting to make an
even bolder assertion. If more researches were to take a disciplinary perspective fully into
account, one could see the scope for better cross-fertilisation and a better sense of unity
between them. What could be discovered, say, about the physics community as an international
phenomenon at the macro level might well have direct relevance to micro level
research in a single physics department. Similarly, micro level enquiries into patterns of
teaching and learning in, say, modern languages, political science and social work could have
a direct bearing on the development of performance indicators or of study skills programmes
at the meso level of the institution. Seen in this light, disciplinary-focused research could
provide an element of mutual coherence that is currently lacking in much of the work in this
field.
It may be relevant, finally, to address the puzzling question which lies behind the
apparent neglect so far among higher education researchers of the characteristic features of
individual disciplines: features which distinguish them one from another, and–it could be
claimed–play a significant part in the business of understanding what higher education is
about. Let me put forward three rival hypotheses to explain the phenomenon.
The first is that, because higher education is a field of study, but not a discipline in its
own right, researchers in that field are not naturally conscious of disciplinary issues. Moreover,
like expatriates, most of them have abandoned their original context and cut themselves
off from its characteristic way of life. It might be said that they lack a culture and therefore
fail to discern one in others. A second hypothesis is that the kind of ethnographic detail
implicit in studies of disciplines involves hard, painstaking work, and that many people find
it easier to avoid this by keeping to a level of comfortable generality. The third is to do with
the basic human need to rationalise and make orderly what look like messy phenomena.
Allison (1971) caught the latter tendency very well in his masterly study of the Cuban
missile crisis: the common approach, as he showed, was to ascribe hilly rational behaviour
to all the key figures involved, even though alternative explanations based on bureaucratic
action and micropolitical behaviour could be seen to be more appropriate. In the case of
higher education, it is awkward to acknowledge that academic behaviour fails to conform to
neat and consistent patterns–so those concerned may subconsciously tidy it up to represent
a respectably neat field of study.
I offer no prediction about which, if any, of these hypotheses is correct, or about whether
a quite different one would offer the best explanation. If other findings about higher
education are anything to go by, the truth will be more complex than any straightforward
correlation would allow. In any case, the question seems a fruitful one for investigation by
higher education researchers currently looking for a topic. For others already actively engaged
in research activity, it is to be hoped that the thesis advanced in this paper may at least
suggest a possible added dimension to their work.
Correspondence: Professor Tony Becher, Institute of Continuing and Professional Education,
Education Development Building, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9RG, United
Kingdom.
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Significance of Disciplinary Differences 161
REFERENCES
ALLISON, G.T. (1971) Essence of Decision (New York, Little, Brown).
BAILEY, F.G. (1977) Morality and Expediency (Oxford, Blackwell).
BAILEY, F.G. (1992) Anthropology, in: B. R. CLARK & G. N~w (Eds) The Encylopedia of Higher Education
(Oxford, Pergamon Press).
BAZERMAN, C. (1981) What written knowledge does, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 2, pp. 361-387.
BECHER, T. (1987) The disciplinary shaping of the profession, in: B. R. CLARK (Ed.) The Academic Profession
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Becher (1994)

PAGES    151    152    153    154    155    156    157    158    159    160    161

Historical

When    Clark (1983), Becher (1989), 1980-1988, 1988-1993, Baily (1977)                Ruscio (1987), Friedburg & Musselin (1989), Clark (1993)

Where    Academic publications focused on disciplines                research and policy in higher education, comparative studies in higher education

departments of engineering and business studies

Intelletual

Purpose    To determine something about disciplinary differences.

Rationale

Relational

Independent

Dependent

Key Concepts    disciplinary differences, disciplinary, disciplines, knowledge communities        knowledge fields, cognitive communities        disciplinary

differences    disciplinary groups            disciplinary cultures    disciplinary cultures, disciplines

Data    Study of research norms and practices in 12 contrasting disciplinary fields                Ruscio (1987), comparative studies in higher education,

comparative research

Finding(s)                    “””His research shows that, even between different institutions in the same system, the phenotypical
variations can be

substantial, but that one can nonetheless clearly identify genotypical
cultures endemic to each discipline”” (Becher, 1994).”

99.

•    MARKETING TO THE BABY BOOM GENERATION.

The nation’s 78 million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are the wealthiest group of Americans. They have an estimated $1 trillion in annual disposable income

and three-quarters of the nation’s financial assets, but only 10% of advertising dollars are directed specifically at the 50-plus market. Marketers aim for the “sweet

spot,” the demographic group between 18 and 49. But as the aging boomers hurdle toward retirement, some marketers are realizing the commercial potential of such a

huge, affluent market.
The baby boom generation has transformed every age and stage it has passed through. As children, boomers created a market for disposable diapers and strained peas in

jars. As teenagers, they introduced the nation to long hair, rock-and-roll music, tie-dyed clothes, and skateboards. As the generation became parents, they demanded

organic baby food, quality health care, and SUVs. Today market researchers are looking at the marketing opportunities for the wealthiest generation steadily moving

into retirement. Almost 8 million Americans turned 60 in 2006. By 2010, one in three adults will be 50 or older. This huge demographic group will not go gently into

retirement like earlier generations have done.
The conventional wisdom among marketers is that you have to get consumers to commit to your brand early in life and once they commit they will be loyal to your brand

forever. However, a study conducted by AARP showed that consumers aged 45 and older switch brands just as readily as younger generations. This has tremendous

implications for savvy marketers.
Half of all boomers live in households without kids. Companies like General Mills changed the packaging for its Pillsbury dinner rolls and Green Giant vegetables to

resealable freezer bags that allow for several smaller portions instead of family-sized portions.
Boomer retirees will leave their primary career near age 62 to 65, but most will not completely leave the job market. Many will pursue volunteer opportunities, take a

low-stress part-time job, or start a completely new business. A study by Merrill Lynch found that 76% of boomers said they will probably hold down a job in retirement,

and a majority of that group said they expect to shift back and forth between leisure and work.
Savvy entrepreneurs can capitalize on the unique qualities of this generation. Take Re/Max agent Kathy Sperl-Bell. Sperl-Bell is a Senior Real Estate Specialist

(SRES), 1 of more than 14,000 real estate agents nationwide with an SRES designation, up from 5,000 in 2002. Agents go through a two-day training program, which

includes analysis of the different generational needs and attitudes of those 55 and older, as well as the types of housing options available for that market. SRES

agents specialize in dealing with this growing market segment that have specific needs—taxes, elder care, estate sales, health care availability—and also a large

amount of disposable income to meet them.
This generation also has the income and leisure time to become doting grandparents. Disney has targeted this trend with TV commercials showing multiple generations

enjoying theme-park attractions. Retiring boomers don’t want to look like retirees. From Botox to cosmetic peels to plastic surgery, the race is on to profit from the

generation’s desire to be forever young. Every cosmetic company from Avon to L’Oreal is rolling out wrinkle creams and serums to halt sagging skin and wrinkles.
But marketers must tailor their marketing carefully. According to one researcher, “Anything marketing to silver hair is bad marketing. Don’t talk to their

chronological age; talk to their self-image.” That 50-year-old boomer probably still feels like a 30-something.
Case Questions:
1.    Based on this upcoming, large spending group, what other types of products/services might be popular and attention getting to this market? Why would these

products/services be a good fit to this group?
2.    Is there a segment of the baby boomers who are more conservative and not interested in buying products that speak to a younger living lifestyle as portrayed in

this case study? If so, how would you define this segment and what potential would there be to sell products and services to them?
3.    For those baby boomers who would like to become entrepreneurs, what might be types of businesses that they would be good fits to operate? What would be their

motivation to own and operate their own business?
Your response to all the above questions (In total) MUST be minimum 400 words and you will need to use the concepts you have learned in this class to strengthen your

responses to the case questions. You are allowed to use sources other than your textbook as long as you cite your sources in your responses and provide a reference

page in the file you upload.

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