Among the many interesting papers posted to SocArXiv this month, this I’m highlighting four that circle around a loose theme: education organizations. All four this month are not-yet-published drafts, including three working papers and a very interesting dissertation chapter. As always, these are papers that caught my eye but they are not peer-reviewed; read them yourself before citing.
The Performativity of Organizational Culture in a No Excuses Charter School
Okay, I’ll admit I was grabbed by the title. Love the concept or hate it, we usually associate “performativity” with economics or finance, at least since Donald MacKenzie’s work. But of course the old Thomas theorem—“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”—applies to our understanding of the world more generally. So why not the performativity of org theory? Many innovative or experimental organizations are grounded in theories, academic or otherwise, about what accounts for organizational success. In the case at hand, No Excuses charter schools were founded based on a theory that strong leaders could create organizational cultures that would produce educational success for disadvantaged students. This ethnographic case study of one No Excuses school explores how leadership attempted to implement their theory and reacted when the theory did not quite perform in the way it expected.
Engineering a Platform: Constructing Interfaces, Users, Organizational Roles, and the Division of Labor
This intriguing paper, also ethnographic, reports on the development of edX, a MOOC platform started in 2012 as a nonprofit collaboration between Harvard and MIT. edX began as an educational organization—it saw itself as linking faculty and TAs with software developers and students—but eventually became a platform for other organizations to use, adopting the slogan “We do software so that you can do education.” In the process, edX had to create a new division of labor in which it did software development (internally framed as “boring”), while instructors at partner institutions would do the “interesting” work of content creation. Yet the supposedly neutral role of platform design still had huge pedagogical implications, even as edX came to distinguish what it did as an organization from “education”. The paper concludes by arguing that understanding platforms requires attending not just to “licenses, legal arrangements, and calculative agencies, but also to the shaping of organizational roles within the eco-system.”
The Ties that Corporatize: A Social Network Analysis of University Presidents as Vectors of Higher Education Corporatization
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Sally Hunnicutt, and Jennifer A. Johnson
This new working paper from Cottom and colleagues reports on a social network analysis of a dataset involving the career histories and education of presidents of Association of Public & Land-grant Universities (APLU) members, including a number of HBCUs, and a smaller sample of for-profit institutions. Presidents of predominantly white APLU institutions are tightly networked, while for-profit institutions and HBCUs are marginal to the network; the institutions with the highest degree centrality are Purdue, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas A&M—an observation that makes Purdue’s recent experiments with purchase of the for-profit Kaplan to run its online classes all the more interesting.
Engineering Credentials: Educational Entrepreneurship as Statecraft in the Cold-War United States
Alexander Kindel and Mitchell Stevens
Last but not least, this historical case study of Stanford’s postwar expansion of graduate science and engineering education engages the longstanding “credential society” literature by advocating for greater attention to the role of the state. While credentialing theory gives credit to educational entrepreneurs and the status projects of occupational groups in driving the expansion of credential-producing programs, this paper points to the fundamental role of the state in this process—through massive government patronage that schools like Stanford entrepreneurially tapped into to drive their own credentialing contributions.
This is self-evidently true for the fields that benefited from the federal government’s massive Cold War expansion of science funding, but struck another chord with me as well, as I recently revised a draft chapter on the origins of public policy schools. Policy schools, which only got started in the late 1960s, were themselves an entrepreneurial response on the part of universities to the massive demand for RAND-style analysis produced by federal rollout of the Planning-Programming-Budgeting System in 1965—making them another, very distinct case in which educational entrepreneurship could be better described as academic statecraft.
Okay, that’s it for this round. Interested in highlighting papers closer to your own interests? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meanwhile, keep those papers coming!