Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines

Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines

Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines

Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines


Acclaim for the first edition of Academic Tribes and Territories:

'...Becher's insistence upon in-depth analysis of the extant literature while reporting his own sustained research doubled the thickness of the material to be covered...Academic Tribes and Territories is a superb addition to the literature on higher education...There is here an education to be had.'
(Burton R. Clark, Higher Education)

'...Becher's landmark work. The higher education community - both practitioners and educational researchers - need to assimilate and to heed the message of this important and insightful book.'
(Alan E. Bayer, Journal of Higher Education)

'a bold approach to a theory of academic relations...The result is a debt to him (Becher) for all students of higher education.'
(The Times Educational Supplement)

'a classic in its field...The book is readily accessible to any member of the academic profession, but it also adds significantly to a specialist understanding of the internal life of higher education institutions in Britain and North America. I confidently predict that it will appear prominently on citation indices for many years.'
(Gareth Williams, Studies in Higher Education)

How do academics perceive themselves and colleagues in their own disciplines, and how do they rate those in other subjects? How closely related are their intellectual tasks and their ways of organizing their professional lives? What are the interconnections between academic cultures and the nature of disciplines? Academic Tribes and Territories maps academic knowledge and explores the diverse characteristics of those who inhabit and cultivate it.

This second edition provides a thorough update to Tony Becher's classic text, first published in 1989, and incorporates research findings and new theoretical perspectives. Fundamental changes in the nature of higher education and in the academic's role are reviewed and their significance for academic cultures is assessed. This edition moves beyond the first edition's focus on elite universities and the research role to examine academic cultures in lower status institutions internationally and to place a new emphasis on issues of gender and ethnicity. This second edition successfully renews a classic in the field of higher education.


This book began with a mild obsession. In 1959, I read – and, in common with a number of others, was profoundly irritated by – C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959). Having myself been trained in philosophy, I took the view then, as I do now, that it offered a superficial and conceptually flawed polarization between the worlds of the sciences and the humanities. That experience triggered off a concern to establish that there are many more numerous and more subtle boundaries than Snow’s polemic allowed within the world of scholarly enquiry, and many bridges across what he chose to depict as a grand canyon of the intellect.

It was not, however, until a further 20 years had passed that I found a way to develop more actively my interest in mapping the variegated territory of academic knowledge and in exploring the diverse characteristics of those who inhabit and cultivate it. If I owe the physicist who wrote The Two Cultures the debt of making me think about the question, I owe the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, more than anyone else, the inspiration of how to get to grips with it. It was his unpublished paper, ‘Towards an ethnography of the disciplines’ (Geertz 1976, partly reproduced in Geertz 1983), that set me off on the investigation on which the present study is based.

Having once identified the means, the opportunity followed closely. I am beholden to the University of Sussex, where I was by then teaching, for giving me 9 months’ study leave in 1980, and to the University of California for awarding me a Visiting Fellowship to the Center for Studies in Higher Education at its Berkeley campus for 3 of those months. I was able during that period to undertake a substantial part of the fieldwork for my investigation. I was not, however, in a position to follow it up more than sporadically for the subsequent 6 years, until another period of study leave and another Visiting Fellowship to Berkeley allowed me to complete my data collection and to do a great deal of relevant background reading. The wide range of sources listed in my bibliography is a tribute to the excellence of the University of California’s multi-campus library system. During both periods of active research, I was also indebted to the Nuffield Foundation for awards . . .

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