Chapter 4 of

Tied Knowledge: Power in Higher Education


by Brian Martin

Go to Tied Knowledge contents page

Philosophy, physics, psychology. To academics, the disciplines seem a self-evident way of dividing and organising knowledge. Certainly, disciplinary divisions are more entrenched in academia than about anywhere else. One of the reasons for this is that the disciplines are tied up with the academic power system.

The sociology of knowledge is the study of the social influences on the creation and nature of knowledge. One of the key insights underlying the sociology of knowledge is that knowledge is socially constructed rather than being built into 'the way things are.' Theories, evidence, even 'facts' are all influenced by the social, political and economic context in which they are developed and used.

For example, the theory of evolution was originally built around the idea of competition, a 'struggle for survival.' In the prevailing intellectual climate in Europe in the 1800s, ideas of social competition were used to justify inequality. Darwin for his biology drew upon the social theories of Thomas Malthus. The 'facts' about nature were interpreted from this framework, and what didn't fit was ignored or explained away. This is the standard procedure when proceeding on the basis of a paradigm - a framework for understanding and investigating the world.

The idea of the social construction of knowledge is vital in understanding the dynamics of disciplines. The disciplines are not based on inherent characteristics of knowledge or reality. Rather, the disciplines can best be understood as resulting from divisions of knowledge which are useful for the purposes of groups of people: academics, professions, capitalists, state bureaucrats. The development and maintenance of a body of knowledge as a discipline involves a continual power struggle.

How does this power struggle proceed? Basically, groups grasp onto disciplines, attempt to take them over, or try to create new ones, to serve their own interests. The chemical industry tries to orient the discipline of chemistry to its interests. Physicists entering the field of molecular biology in the 1940s and 1950s tried to transform biology into a physics-like subject; sociobiologists seek to 'biologise' the social sciences. New disciplines such as biochemistry are staked out by practitioners who want to control the content of their teaching and research.

In all these instances, the way knowledge is organised and divided is the subject of the struggle. At the same time, knowledge is a tool in the struggle. Those who control teaching and research in a discipline use that control to expand their own empires or to ward off threats. The existing organisation of knowledge is hard to change. People's careers are built on it, and their perceptions grow out of it. So the past history of disciplines is one of the key factors in their continuing development.

Do disciplines have any inherent logic? It might be argued that there are some useful divisions of subject matter, even if struggles do go on over the divisions and content. But the question then becomes, to whom are the divisions useful and for what purpose? My answer in general would be that some knowledge divisions are probably convenient for most people studying an area, but that these convenient divisions cannot be separated from divisions that are useful for other purposes. For example, for certain purposes it can be useful to distinguish between geology and geography; these few purposes are seized upon and solidified into semipermanent boundaries between departments, styles of thought, journals, theories and all the rest. The result is that it is impossible to separate out what is a useful knowledge distinction from the wider configuration of power in which that knowledge is developed and used.

In the following, I first look at three aspects of disciplines in connection with power systems: direct links with interest groups, specialisation, and academic power struggles, and then examine interdisciplinary studies and Marxism.

Links with interest groups

Many of the knowledge frameworks in academia are overtly tied to interest groups on the inside or outside. Most obvious are the knowledge frameworks of professions such as law, medicine and engineering. Precisely because these areas of knowledge are so oriented to particular functions in society, such as the legal system, they are often not considered proper academic disciplines. Medicine, for example, is seen as drawing on a range of disciplines, for instance heavily on anatomy and physiology and peripherally on chemistry and psychology.

The core disciplines are defined mainly in ways which maximise control by the academics themselves. The theoretical core of the discipline is what gives the academics greatest control. Academic chemical engineers are likely to have continual interactions with industry, experimental chemists to have not so many and theoretical chemists to mainly interact with each other. Although applications make the discipline useful to other groups, seldom is there a neat correspondence between the organisation of the discipline and the applications.

Nuclear physics illustrates the complexities of linkages between interest groups and disciplines. Nuclear physics can be considered to be a branch of physics or as a discipline in its own right. It deals with the dynamics of particles and forces at the level of the nucleus of the atom. It is bounded on one side by atomic physics which deals with problems at the larger scale of atoms, and on the other side by particle physics which deals with particles smaller than the nucleus.

Prior to World War Two, the study of nuclear dynamics was a small but expanding academic topic. The programmes to build nuclear weapons during and after the war led to an enormous input of money and resources into the field. Beginning in the 1950s, the development of nuclear power gave further impetus to nuclear research. With the injection of large amounts of money, with many lucrative jobs and research contracts, nuclear physics became one of the most prestigious of subjects and attracted many of the top students in the 1960s.

The designing and building of nuclear weapons and nuclear power facilities depends on a certain level of understanding of the underlying processes, in other words of nuclear physics. But rather than concentrate on the applications - many of which can be classified as nuclear engineering - most universities emphasised theory and experiment in nuclear physics for the ostensible purpose of pure understanding. While most nuclear scientists support nuclear power, most of them conceive of themselves as scientists: as nuclear physicists, not as lackeys of the nuclear industry. They justify expenditure and training in their area by reference to the important understandings about nature which result. The question is, why does the academic discipline of nuclear physics, which owes so much to state investment in nuclear weapons and nuclear power, define itself primarily in terms of a body of knowledge rather than as a potential set of applications?

The answer lies in the structuring of the academic community around bodies of knowledge which are exclusively controlled by groups of teachers and researchers. In order to justify claims for a share of academic prestige and resources, it is vital to stake a knowledge claim. If nuclear physicists were to claim large sums of money solely because their discoveries would aid in the building of new weapons or safer nuclear power plants, this would not aid their academic status. (Such work, many academics might think, is more appropriate for government laboratories.) To attract top-ranking, idealistic students, academic nuclear physics portrayed itself as both highly theoretical and as linked to important developments in technology.

This adaptation of nuclear physics to the academic scene has both advantages and disadvantages for the groups promoting nuclear technologies. By providing academic respectability, money can be provided to the area and staff and students attracted who might otherwise choose an area where applications were more clearly beneficial. Researchers in nuclear physics are mostly doing 'pure research': it does not seem to have any practical applications, and so can be done with a clear conscience. Nevertheless, the 'pure research' results in tied knowledge. If the knowledge is useful to anyone outside the research community, most likely it will be useful to the military or the nuclear industry. The nuclear physics research community thus provides a reservoir of talented researchers and teachers which is selectively useful to nuclear elites.

At the same time, precisely because of the necessity to appear to be pure research, much of academic nuclear physics is of little relevance for practical applications. The nuclear weapons states have never dispensed with large government laboratories; they do not depend on academic nuclear physics. In addition, some of the more idealistic academic nuclear physicists have been critical of nuclear policies. The academic context provides them the social space to take a critical stance. Thus while academic nuclear physics may serve to legitimate nuclear policies, it also opens avenues for opposition to them.


The division of knowledge into disciplines is only the beginning of specialisation in learning and especially in research. The incredible narrowness of much academic research is notorious. It is found in nearly every field, from the analysis of obscure chemicals to the history of pulp mills in southern Ireland from 1905-1908.

It is commonplace to comment that modern researchers know more and more about less and less. Often the result is a sort of intellectual navel-gazing. A carpenter once put it to me somewhat differently. He said it was amazing that people could devote so much effort trying to disappear up their own rear ends.

Specialisation is not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the findings dependent on extreme specialisation are very valuable. What is important about the phenomenon is that much of it occurs in academia for reasons aside from benefits. The result is that the specialised knowledge is never brought together: no larger understanding comes of it. I have visited a number of departments in which staff did not know what their colleagues in nearby offices were doing.

What are the driving forces behind extreme specialisation? There are two main areas of influence: the internal structure of academia, and outside structures.

Academic disciplines are built around control exercised by those in the discipline, justified by the claim to exclusive rights of judgement over valid contributions. But within disciplines, academics are still vulnerable to challenges to their work from other academics. This is threatening, especially to those in powerful positions. Specialisation serves to protect small groups and individuals from challenge. It becomes much more difficult for others in the discipline - not to mention those outside the discipline - to examine the adequacy and value of the ideas. Specialisation thus helps to build prestige: only the specialists can understand what goes on in the area. Also, if the field is turbulent, with incursions from new researchers or ideas (perhaps even from other disciplines), specialisation provides protection. On many occasions the fundamental assumptions underlying a research area have been demolished, but specialised research continues on its merry way. Specialisation provides a stable social basis for building the self-image of academics.

In relation to groups outside academia, specialisation usually makes academic knowledge easier to monopolise by elites. Corporations and state bureaucracies are better able to hire specialists who can understand and apply specialised knowledge. For example, much biomedical research on the properties of potential drugs is ideally suited for use by large drug manufacturers. A more general and understandable analysis of drugs would permit smaller companies to exploit the knowledge, and might also allow outside critics to expose dangers and abuses more readily. From the point of view of outside elites, specialisation serves as a process of divide and rule. But disadvantages may arise for them when specialisation goes beyond or in a different direction than what is useful to them. Academic researchers may specialise in ways which build academic empires with reduced outside spinoffs. The esoteric byways of econometrics are of little interest to economic managers.

Specialisation is a continuation of the process of tying knowledge that begins with the academic profession as a whole. Knowledge is developed which jointly benefits the academics and powerful outside interests. The division into disciplines reflects the jockeying for power within the academic community while also allowing different areas of knowledge to be tied to different outside interest groups. Specialisation carries this process much further, often past the point of diminishing returns to academic and non-academic elites.

Academic power struggles

It is not unknown for academics to denigrate other disciplines! A mathematician told about the meeting of a dozen economists who, asked to provide a cure for unemployment, came up with 13 different answers. The economist responded with a story about the mathematician who, when asked to add a column of numbers, only came up with a proof that the total must be a nonnegative integer. Alas, no discipline can escape the put-downs. After all, they are all academic disciplines.

Since power in academia is built around disciplines, power struggles take place within and around these bodies of knowledge. Powerful figures in a discipline usually rise to their positions by pursuing research of a conventional kind (often with a mild originality), typically along a narrow specialisation without much deviation. By becoming the moguls of a thin slice of knowledge, the rising stars of the discipline ward off challenges and stake claims for more influence and control. There are a number of ways in which this happens.

The most dynamic disciplines become expansionary. They tout their techniques and approaches as suitable for a whole range of problems. Traditional economics is the most expansionary of the social sciences. This is because it is connected with a very powerful outside interest, namely the state and corporate managers of the economic system, and also because it has developed strong internal cohesion through a sophisticated mathematical foundation. (The limited practical value of neoclassical economics to practical economic policy-making, and the fundamental flaws in its mathematical foundations, do not seem to have dented the power of the academic economists significantly. The key is the political strength of the claims by economists, not the practical use or scholarly soundness of the claims.) The framework and methods used in neoclassical economics are being taken up in some related disciplines, notably political science and sociology, and having an impact far afield such as in education and environmental studies. In terms of ideas, this means that fundamental assumptions of neoclassical economics, such as the primacy of the market and the autonomous nature of individual preferences, are adopted in other areas. In terms of people and positions, it means that people in other disciplines using economic approaches are given positions, research funds and promotions, and that economists can be chosen for positions in other fields.

A different strategy used in academic power struggles is closure: the cutting off of 'fringe' perspectives or individuals by demanding adherence to a particular core of knowledge. Closure is typically used by an in-group to eliminate challengers who threaten to usurp resources or positions of influence.

One of the most important consequences of the division of knowledge into disciplines is the squeezing out of anyone who does not fit nicely inside the usual frameworks. Those whose scholarship cuts across the disciplines or which is tied to powerless groups are often hard pressed to find a position inside academia where they can concentrate on their interests. This applies to feminists, anarchists, peace researchers, and students of industrial democracy, holistic health and exploitation of animals. The usual way to survive is to do sufficient work within a traditional discipline to obtain and hold a job, and to pursue the 'fringe' topic in the remaining time available. The areas which fall outside the disciplines thus provide fewer career opportunities and lack the status of disciplinary work.

The dominant strand of neoclassical economics may be expansionary in relation to other disciplines, but the discipline of economics itself uses closure to ward off challenges from alternative perspectives. The main challenger at present is political economy, which rejects many of the fundamental assumptions of neoclassical economics and puts in their place such things as an analysis of the ownership and control of the means of production, and the role of oligopoly, the state and working class opposition in shaping the dynamics of the economic process. Some broadminded economists are undoubtedly happy to join (or lead) a broad-based economics discipline which includes both neoclassical and political economists, and others. But many economists who have built their careers and their self-images on the neoclassical perspective find political economy a major threat.

Neo-classical economists draw strength from career, personal and ideological links with major corporations and their supporters in the state. Political economists potentially can draw strength from links with social democratic parties and left-leaning state bureaucrats who want to increase the power of the state (or sometimes, more radically, the workers) in relation to monopoly capital.

At Sydney University, where the closure strategy was used against political economy, a struggle went on for over a decade. To oppose demands for political economy by students and by a minority of economics department staff, the key academics in the economics department opposed the introduction of political economy courses, terminated the positions of tutors favouring political economy, discriminated against students pursuing political economy, appointed their own followers into staff vacancies, and consistently opposed the creation of a separate political economy department. The political economists organised themselves cohesively to promote autonomy of political economy courses and staff. Major student protests played an important role in the push for political economy.

On both sides there was mobilisation around a core of knowledge as a means to maintain or seize control of the organisational autonomy and resources of a university department. Closure is a strategy of creating internal unity and exorcising dissent. So although it might be imagined that academics always want more resources to increase their power, actually in many cases they prefer contraction, just so long as it is opponents who are the ones being contracted more. Of course, once a satisfactory degree of ideological unity is achieved, then expansion inside and outside the discipline can occur under the hegemony of the dominant perspective.

There are more perspectives on economics than neoclassical economics and political economy. Some of the alternatives with more far-reaching critiques of dominant assumptions, such as humanistic economics and Gandhian economics, have no power base at all, just a few fringe supporters inside academia in a variety of departments. Because they have no power base inside higher education, it is very hard for them to make headway. Certainly the existence of a potent critique, a synthesising vision or a useful framework for developing theory and applications is not sufficient.

In many disciplines there is an ongoing struggle by non-Marxists to hold power in the face of challenges by Marxists. But these sorts of struggles are not unique to the social sciences. At the Australian National University, I witnessed long battles between pure and applied mathematicians for control of departmental prerogatives. This included denigration of the other side's talents and activities, appointment of supporters, encroachment on course content to steal the middle ground, and inability to agree on allocation of resources to proposed common courses. Claims about the definition of a 'mathematician' were used to exclude appointments or promotions to those too far from the conception of the key power-brokers. In this struggle, the ideological resource of the pure mathematicians is the autonomy of their knowledge from other departments and thus the prestige of pure mathematics as a 'higher knowledge' than other disciplines. Applied mathematics, to the extent that neighbouring disciplines overlap with it, is harder to establish as a separate knowledge base. Hence in a struggle with pure mathematics, applied mathematicians instead can form alliances with neighbouring disciplines such as theoretical physics and computer science. The outcome of battles between pure and applied mathematicians will depend on the balance between the advantages to pure mathematicians given by greater internal control over knowledge in the discipline and advantages to applied mathematicians given by the interests and demands of related disciplines. The intrinsic political advantages to pure mathematics are such that in many universities applied mathematics does not exist as a separate department, and the subject matter of applied mathematics is taught in the departments of physics, biology, psychology and other areas where mathematics is applied.

More common than major struggles are the minor adaptations of academics to the gradually changing configuration of power across different disciplines. When student numbers in science courses are high, a mathematics department will normally orient some of its courses to provide mathematical training for the science students. If this is not done, the science departments may teach much of the mathematics themselves, and the mathematics department will lose out on student enrolments and staff appointments. Thus the mathematics curriculum to some extent will be tied to the science curriculum. But in many places in the 1970s and 1980s there was a 'swing away from science.' Student numbers dropped. For the science departments, there were not many options. But for mathematics departments, there was the possibility of catering for the rising numbers of computer science students. Tying the mathematics curriculum more to computer science becomes a way to maintain student and staff numbers.

Whether this is possible or likely depends on the general structure of the curriculum, and in particular the location of computer science in the array of departments. When computers were first introduced into academia, their organisational location often depended on the initiative of particular individuals or departments. Computer science as a discipline has had its beginnings as part of a variety of departments, including electrical engineering, physics, mathematics and economics. The past configuration linking bodies of knowledge and organisation of staff and resources has a major impact on the future evolution of the system.

The tying of a discipline's curriculum or research to bodies of knowledge in other disciplines illustrates well the 'automatic' nature of many shifts in academic knowledge and power. It is not a nasty, scheming tactic to adapt a curriculum to the area where the students are: it is only good sense given the structure of academia as it is. Likewise, even the major battles within and between departments and disciplines reflect the availability of rewards and tools to fight with. These struggles do not arise solely because some academics are nasty and scheming, though undoubtedly some are. Rather, academics believe sincerely in the rightness of what they are doing: they are committed to a particular body of knowledge, and believe that students and the community will suffer if it is adulterated or distorted. It just so happens that these beliefs serve the interests of particular disciplines, departments and academics. What makes the struggles so persistent and often so ruthless is the combination of personal gains and sincere beliefs.

Interdisciplinary studies

The process of increasing specialisation brings on a demand for interdisciplinary studies. Most social problems - unemployment, environmental damage, inequality, alienation - cut across the standard academic disciplines, not to mention the specialisations. The result is a demand by all sorts of groups for problem-centred education and research.

The problem is that interdisciplinary studies often pose a challenge to academic power centred on the disciplines. Individuals who rose to prominence by doing research in a narrow speciality find that resources are being claimed by interlopers without specialist knowledge. Even worse, challenges to disciplinary knowledge frameworks may emanate from holistic programmes. Because so much of academic culture is built around adherence to disciplinary frameworks, and so much of academic power is built around empires centred on disciplines, interdisciplinary programmes are often greeted with great hostility by powerful academics.

Support for interdisciplinary programmes comes from a range of sources: from social movements such as the women's movement, from the politicians and business executives who want graduates who are able to take a broader view, and from many academics who are frustrated by the procrustean disciplinary beds. The result is a continual battle between the proponents and opponents of interdisciplinary studies.

One manifestation of the power of the disciplinary system is the collapse of many nobly designed interdisciplinary programmes. The theory of linking learning and research across disciplines and of focussing on problems rather than fragmented approaches is very persuasive in many circles. Some top-level administrators - who, because of their position, are less dependent on a disciplinary power base - are very sympathetic to synthesising visions. The result is that programmes, faculties and entire institutions have been set up in ways designed to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and integrated teaching and research.

For example, La Trobe University in Melbourne opened in 1966 with a broad non-disciplinary framework. All the visions were nice, but in only a few years the organisational structure reverted to the usual disciplinary form. Why? First, the multidisciplinary 'schools' at La Trobe were based on the usual academic hierarchy, with professors at the top and so forth down the line. This meant that the usual power struggles for building empires were brought into play. Narrow knowledge frameworks are a possible way to claim resources, and so pressures developed from the professors for traditional disciplines. Second, the wider academic community provided an indirect pressure: journals, conferences, colleague networks - which provided the basis for advancement in other places - remained. Third, the initial people appointed to top positions were chosen because of their traditional academic achievements! Appointees were not required to have a commitment to, or even an understanding of, the planned La Trobe structure. Without special commitment, the plan had little chance of success. It did not create a culture or structure to undermine disciplinary fragmentation, nor was it staffed with people to carry out the changes.

The La Trobe experiment was only one of a great many in different parts of the world. Not all ended so quickly and ignominiously, though many did.

This account may give the impression that disciplines are evil and that interdisciplinary studies provide salvation. That is far from reality. It is worth spelling out some of the limitations of interdisciplinary studies.

* Problem-centred study and research sounds very socially useful. Indeed - but useful for what purpose? The military for example is interested in interdisciplinary teams for looking at problems which it faces. This may be to examine programmes of biological warfare, to build cohesion among the troops, or to predict future political developments and resource needs. Corporations and state bureaucracies are often much more interested in problem-centred studies than are academics, because they need to solve problems, not just add to a pile-of patchwork knowledge.

* Rather than providing an integrated view of a problem or area, combining the contributions of different disciplines may simply do no more than that: sum up the different perspectives. The result can be called multidisciplinary as opposed to transdisciplinary. For example, in looking at poverty, a multidisciplinary study might provide an economic view, a psychological view and political science view, without resolving contradictions or providing any insight not already available in the separate views.

* Another danger is that an 'interdisciplinary' study will be dominated by a single discipline. The other disciplinary contributions then provide legitimation by suggesting that perspectives have been included which really had no fundamental impact. In environmental economics for example, environmental impacts may be included as 'externalities' in an otherwise standard economic analysis. This means that environmental impacts seem to be included but really are subordinated to the economic perspective.

* To prevent attacks from disciplines, some interdisciplinary programmes develop their own paradigm. The resulting 'holistic' body of knowledge can then be used to claim resources and privileges in the usual competition between disciplines. The danger is that the programme may become locked into its own perspective and not maintain the flexibility and openness which were reasons for setting up the programme in the first place. This process is basically one by which the disciplinary power structure fosters adaptation by challengers to its own mould.

If a programme does not develop and control its own knowledge framework, the danger is that there is no firm analysis and that courses and studies will simply skate over the top of issues. Such a programme will be vulnerable to attack since others can see what is happening and claim that their own more opaque approaches are doing the job better.

* Finally, interdisciplinary programmes are not necessarily nice to work in. They can be collegial and friendly, but they also can be just as nasty as any traditional department. Knowledge, hierarchy and external relations are organised differently - but this does not guarantee harmony. For example, people organising courses or research programmes can use their claim to be more truly holistic to exclude others with a different approach which is stigmatised as too narrow. Instead of closure working to exclude those on the boundaries of the discipline, interdisciplinary closure can work to exclude those who are not sufficiently 'holistic.' In both cases, power blocs use their claims over what is the proper approach to knowledge to promote their own individual and collective interests, which may of course be tied to the internal hierarchy, to outside groups, or to male domination.

Marxism: opiate of the academics?

Another alternative to disciplinary power is some sort of synthesising vision. One possibility is the traditional ideal of liberal education, which aims to provide an overall picture of the unity of knowledge. In practice, liberal education has had no unifying perspective. It turns out to be little more than a synthesis of disciplinary perspectives, and as a result quickly breaks down in the face of disciplinary power.

An alternative synthesising vision might be provided by Marxism, feminism or some brand of humanism. Here I look at the relation of Marxism to disciplinary power.

Since the 1960s, the number of Marxist scholars in academia has changed from a marginal few to a respectable, though often small, minority. Modern academic Marxism is booming. There are numerous scholarly journals, conferences and courses. Many academic Marxists continue to face discrimination and hostility, but in quite a few departments they are treated like other staff members. Marxism has well and truly breached the walls of academia.

At the same time, academic Marxism is almost entirely restricted to academia. Few members of the manual working class take any interest in the latest theories of the state. In making the entry to academia, Marxism has become more academic than almost any other approach to the social sciences. Marxist journals - and many of the top Marxist theorists - are filled with esoteric theory, abstract theoretical frameworks and special jargon. This can be seen as an adaptation to the academic system: to defend their academic positions, Marxists have made their work very scholarly and exclusive: no one else can penetrate it, so academic Marxists can claim sole right to evaluate it.

Academic Marxism has adapted to the traditional disciplinary framework without too much trouble. There are Marxist geographers, Marxist anthropologists and Marxist students of literature as well as the more typical Marxist economists, political scientists and sociologists. Marxist scholars in different disciplines do feel an affinity, but then so do bourgeois scholars after all.

Academic Marxism has also adapted to academia by separating itself from political practice. Marxist theoretical tracts typically contain masses of abstruse analysis, with a few pages or paragraphs tacked onto the end dealing with 'what to do.' Unlike those writings in business or popular psychology which provide lots of practical advice, it is rare to find a practical manual for political action written by an academic Marxist.

Why has Marxism made such headway in academia? It does provide a rigorous theoretical framework, which is valuable for establishing a claim to intellectual territory. But what is the special attraction of an analysis of the mode of production and class struggle? One attraction is that this type of analysis - at least when made highly theoretical and abstruse - is more tied to the interests of academic intellectuals than is more 'practical' social science, which often is oriented to direct practical or ideological use by the state or corporations. Marxism is attractive even to some non-Marxists because it raises the status of academic intellectuals - at least if taken in a moderate dose.

In as much as Marxist analysis has practical applications, for example through the field of political economy, it is oriented to action by social democratic governments and state bureaucracies. This arena for application has a greater affinity to many academics than does the corporate sector, since the state allegedly acts on the basis of administrative rationality whereas capitalism operates on the basis of profit and the ownership of capital. Trends in the past few decades suggest that there are increasing prospects for academics to become politicians or state administrators as opposed to corporate executives or entrepreneurs.

There is one other important attraction found in Marxism: it puts intellectuals in a privileged place in the theory itself. Intellectuals have always played a major role in socialist politics. They are the ones who can cut through the 'false consciousness' of the workers, grasp the contradictions in the mode of production and discover the points for intervention. It is no coincidence that academic Marxism is opaque to the working class.


On the nature of disciplines, see Tony Becher, Academic tribes and territories: intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines (Milton Keynes: Society for Research into Higher Education/Open University Press, 1989).

There are a great number of critiques of individual disciplines, though perhaps not as many as might be expected. I list here only a few of more general interest.

Stanislav Andreski, Social sciences as sorcery (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973). A blunt, scathing and refreshing blast at the social sciences (with economics partly excepted), with many amusing and cutting observations about academia generally.

Robin Blackburn (ed.), Ideology in social science: readings in critical social theory (Glasgow: Fontana, 1972). A good collection of critiques of disciplines.

Robert Lilienfeld, The Rise of Systems Theory: An Ideological Analysis (New York: Wiley, 1978). An account of the links between the social role and the ideas of 'systems thinkers.'

Bertell Ollman and Edward Vernoff (eds), The Left academy: Marxist scholarship on American Campuses (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982). A useful summary of Marxist perspectives in different disciplines.

Trevor Pateman (ed.), Counter course: a handbook for course criticism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972). A good collection of critiques of disciplines.

A good presentation of the sociology of knowledge is given by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The social construction of reality (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1966).

The values built into evolutionary theory are analysed for example by Robert M. Young, 'The historiographic and ideological contexts of the nineteenth-century debate on man's place in nature', in: Mikulas Teich and Robert M. Young (eds), Changing perspectives in the history of science (London: Heinemann, 1973), pp. 344-438.

On the relation between the organisation of knowledge and social power, a classic discussion is Basil Bernstein, 'On the classification and framing of educational knowledge', in: Basil Bernstein, Class, codes and control Volume 1: Theoretical studies towards a sociology of language (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), pp. 202-230.

On struggles over political economy, see Evan Jones and Frank Stilwell, 'Political economy at the University of Sydney,' in: Brian Martin, C. M. Ann Baker, Clyde Manwell and Cedric Pugh (eds.), Intellectual Suppression: Australian Case Histories, Analysis and Responses (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1986), pp. 24-38.

On the La Trobe example, see Neil Marshall, 'La Trobe University: the vision and the reality', in: Stephen Murray-Smith (ed.), Melbourne Studies in Education (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1981), pp. 1-41. On the similar fate of British 'plateglass universities' set up in the 1960s around more integrated curricula, see Peter Wilby, 'New bottles, old wine', Studies in Higher Education, vol. 1, 1976, pp. 245-250.