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The Making of Curriculum in Higher Education

Power, Knowledge, and Teaching Practices
La fabrique des programmes d’enseignement dans le supérieur. Pouvoir, curriculum et transmission des savoirs
The Making of Curriculum in Higher Education: Power, Knowledge, and Teaching Practices
La fábrica de los programas de enseñenza superior. Poder, currículum y transmisión de los saberes
Julien Barrier, Olivier Quéré et Rachel Vanneuville
Traduction de Bonnie Einsiedel
Cet article est une traduction de :
La fabrique des programmes d’enseignement dans le supérieur [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
La fábrica de los programas de enseñanza superior  [es]


Cet article d’introduction au dossier présente les principaux enjeux théoriques et empiriques d’une sociologie du curriculum appliquée à l’enseignement supérieur. Il montre d’abord comment l’entrée par le curriculum permet de réintroduire la question des savoirs dans l’étude de l’enseignement supérieur, lieu privilégié de production, certification et transmission de savoirs théoriques et de légitimation de groupes professionnels. À partir d’une revue de littérature de travaux français et internationaux sur les curricula dans le supérieur, l’article souligne ensuite les apports de cette sociologie pour analyser les formes de production et d’institutionnalisation des savoirs, sur leur traduction en programmes d’enseignement et sur leurs effets socialisateurs. Enfin, la présentation des articles du dossier permet de mettre en lumière les enjeux politiques, les cadres institutionnels et les logiques professionnelles qui structurent les curricula.

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1Similar to what can be seen in many European countries, higher education in France has experienced profound transformations since the early 2000s: the restructuration of teaching within the Bologna process harmonizing European diplomas (Musselin, 2006; Mangset, 2009); increased demands to “vocationalize” university education (Agulhon et al., 2012); or even incentives for the development of new pedagogical tools and practices (Lemaître, 2018). However, although these evolutions have given rise to much research, it is striking that only a minority of works are interested in the content of the knowledge taught and its structure in a curriculum. This notion refers, in its strictest sense, to “what is supposed to be taught and learned in a determined order or programming and progression within a given course” (Forquin 2008: 8). In a wider sense, it also encompasses all that is effectively taught and learned, sometimes in an implicit or hidden manner, in educational institutions (Perrenoud, 1993). Indeed, although the study of curricula in higher education has aroused increasing interest for several years, it is far from constituting as well established a theme as, for example, the student condition, university research or governance of institutions.

2On this basis, this special issue proposes to bring together a collection of works on the making of curricula. Its objective is first to raise awareness, beyond education specialists, of research conducted on this theme both in the Francophone sphere and internationally. This is all the more necessary as the works addressing higher education curricula are attached to different disciplinary traditions, approaches and objectives. Concerning France, for example, although there is clearly research on sociology of education (Stavrou, 2017), this object has also been adopted by political scientists, who consider the training of civil servants to be an indicator of the evolution of legitimate state knowledge (Biland and Vanneuville, 2012, Quéré, 2019).

3Likewise, the contributions combined in this issue focus, among other things, on objects as different as the emergence of “area studies” as a new field in the aftermath of the Second World War, the way in which academics develop their courses, or even the training of social workers in France and Italy. Nevertheless, beyond the diversity of focal points and empirical objects, we would like to point out some of the more general theoretical issues posed by the study of curricula. The aim of this issue is thus to demonstrate the interest of an approach attentive to the construction of knowledge taught in order to analyze the social, institutional and political dynamics structuring higher education.

4To this end, this introduction first proposes to outline the main theoretical issues of a sociology of curriculum in higher education. Secondly, we will further detail three major research themes, based on a wide literature review. Lastly, we will present the articles gathered in the issue by revisiting their cross-disciplinary contributions.

Why Take an Interest in Higher Education Curricula? 

5This special issue is in line with a series of sociological works advocating for a better consideration of knowledge in the study of education (see Deauvieau and Terrail, 2017 for an overview). Indeed, since the 1970s, sociologists of education have often set aside analyzing the content of knowledge taught, generally conceived as the exclusive object of research on didactics (Lahire, 1999; Losego, 2014). This is especially the case for works on the role of the education system as a selection system, contributing to the reproduction and legitimization of hierarchical social positions (Meyer, 1977; Bourdieu, 1989). Putting particular emphasis on inputs and outputs in the education system, these works have often disregarded the question of knowledge and its transmission (Young, 1971a).

  • 1 From 1904-1905, in L’évolution pédagogique en France [Pedagogical Evolution in France] ([1938] 1999 (...)

6This situation is problematic for at least two reasons. Firstly, it is paradoxical, insofar as it ignores what is at the very heart of teaching practices. The paradox is all the more acute as the question of the social structure of knowledge and its modes of transmission was at the center of Émile Durkheim’s pioneer studies on education systems (Durkheim, 1905/1999)1. Moreover, this situation reflects a questionable division of intellectual work: the analysis of the content of knowledge and its transmission is reserved to specialists in didactics; while the study of institutions and social contexts of education is exclusive to sociologists and historians (Passeron, 1991). This situation is reminiscent of the reluctance of the Mertonian-inspired sociology of sciences to take an interest in the “technical content” of scientific knowledge, falling under epistemology and not sociology (Vinck, 2007). Yet, science studies have amply demonstrated to what point it is fruitful to open the “black box” of knowledge production, to understand how social dynamics shape scientific knowledge – and vice versa (Latour, 1987). There is no reason to think that such an approach is less relevant when considering teaching activities, which also involve processes of knowledge construction.

7More positively, emphasizing knowledge consists of examining the categories of thought, objects of knowledge and forms of reasoning constructed – and transmitted – in teaching activities. From this perspective, taking knowledge seriously means considering that it is not simply a vehicle for external logics, but has a depth and its own social effects. This also helps with understanding the production of academic inequalities as shown in the work of Jérôme Deauvieau and his colleagues (2015) on the impact of methods chosen to teach reading.

8Therefore, this special issue proposes to look at the question of curricula within a general framework of a sociology attentive to knowledge. Without professing to develop a unique analytical framework – which would by no means do justice to the diversity of contributions gathered in this issue – or to sweep away existing debates, our objective is, more modestly, to underline the contributions of a curriculum approach.

Examining Knowledge Construction and Transmission in Education

9Drawing inspiration from several reference works (Young, 1971; Bernstein, 1971; Bernstein, 2007; Isambert-Jamati, 1990; Forquin, 2008), here we consider the curriculum as a particularly heuristic object for understanding the construction of knowledge in education. It should be noted that this does not involve solely focusing on what is listed in official education programs, course booklets or manuals. As Viviane Isambert-Jamati’s research (1990) shows, curriculum analysis can cover a wide range of activities, from political struggles over defining official programs (the “formal curriculum”), to the actual pedagogical practices structuring their transmission and learning (the “real curriculum”). Additionally, although there are different ways to consider curricula in social sciences, this special issue broadly agrees with the idea that the study of curricula relates to a wider reflection on “how knowledge is selected, organized and assessed” in education institutions (Young, 1971b: 19). Based on this, we wish to outline several proposals broadly delineating the advantages and specificities of an approach focusing on the curriculum, in order to demonstrate what it can bring to a sociology attentive to the content of knowledge taught.

  • 2 On this point, it is interesting to note that the idea that academic knowledge is socially construc (...)
  • 3 Our presentation here is very partial, but we note that, for B. Bernstein, the analysis of processe (...)
  • 4 On teaching physics at university, see in particular Cécile de Hosson’s works (de Hosson et al., 20 (...)
  • 5 This principle also applies to understanding relationships between different disciplines within a c (...)

10First of all, the interest of this approach is to consider that the definition of the content of what is taught, and ways to teach it, pertains to choices that are neither evident nor natural, and which must then be analyzed2. This issue is notably at the core of the notion of “recontextualization”, developed by Basil Bernstein (2000) and frequently mobilized in works on curriculum. This term refers to the mechanisms by which knowledge (scientific, professional, experience-based…) is selected – or excluded – in teaching, and also the way in which it is shaped, retranslated and reformulated throughout the process3. For example, the physics taught at university is not an exact reflection of scientific knowledge used by researchers in physics. It is a reconstruction of it, designed according to specific pedagogical means and objectives, produced by an array of social actors: government departments, learned societies, teachers, etc. This recontextualization does not just boil down to “technical” or “neutral” processes, which would consist, for example, of “simplifying” knowledge to make it teachable4. On the contrary, the challenge is to understand how these processes can be oriented by ideologies, interests, institutional logics or social hierarchies. It is not a case of affirming that the knowledge taught is entirely determined by these factors, but instead understanding the overlapping between cognitive and social dynamics5.

11Empirically, these processes can be understood by considering the architectural design of an education program, the definition of course content, choices of pedagogical methods, or even the construction of teaching assessment methods. This latter point is clearly illustrated by Suellen Shay’s analyses (2011) of developments in the teaching of history in South African universities since the 1970s. She shows how the formulation of exam topics incorporates, and reveals, changing perspectives in the conception of historical knowledge and identity of knowers, echoing both the redefinitions of history as a discipline and upheavals in the education system post-apartheid. More broadly, whether the entire theoretical system that includes B. Bernstein’s concept of recontextualization is used or not, one of the main challenges of a curriculum approach is examining the mechanisms of selecting, translating, or shaping knowledge in, by and for education. Thus, the multiple mediations and translations that link the knowledge taught and sites of knowledge production (networks of expertise, professional circles, research laboratories…) can also be examined. Furthermore, the hypothesis can be made that the characteristics of certain knowledge (for example, the way in which it is formalized, structured, or incorporated into pedagogical tools) have an impact on how it circulates and is translated into different forms. According to Karl Maton, some types of knowledge “lend themselves more to certain forms of pedagogy, evaluation, identity, change over time, and so forth, than others” (Maton, 2009: 55).

  • 6 This point is particularly stressed by Daniel Frandji and Philippe Vitale (2007) regarding B. Berns (...)

12Secondly, the advantage of a curriculum approach is its capacity to describe the meso-sociological orders, structures, or processes, that mediate relationships between localized practices and macrosocial phenomena6. Concretely, this approach can, for example, place the detailed ethnography of pedagogical practices in the wider context of a degree program, an institution, or a discipline. What is observed in class is, at least in part, the result of a series of choices made in the design and organization of courses, which are themselves the product of relationships between different actors, disciplines or institutions. For example, at France’s École nationale d’administration (ENA [National School of Administration]), the teaching of legal writing – “legistics” – is built on maintaining the legitimacy and uses of law at the heart of the French administration. Indeed, law is facing competition from the increasing use of economic and management tools in conducting public affairs (Biland and Vanneuville, 2012). The curriculum approach thus links, both empirically and analytically, social spaces and empirical objects often considered independently from one another.

13Considering the curriculum from a meso-sociological angle does not mean considering it as simply relaying external dynamics. On the contrary, it is heuristic to study it as a structure with a social and cognitive existence beyond discourse, which produces specific effects. Whether attention is paid to a course sequence or to a whole program, one of the contributions of the curriculum approach is its emphasis on the combination of diverse elements. It involves understanding how a whole, simultaneously composed of knowledge content, pedagogical practices and institutional rules, is organized.

14More specifically, speaking of curriculum is an invitation to think about a structure including two dimensions (Forquin, 2008, p.10): on the one hand, “a ‘systemic’ dimension (the fact that a program includes a multiplicity of clearly differentiated and more or less strongly linked components, that do or do not take the form of what are commonly called ‘subjects’ or ‘disciplines’)”; and, on the other hand, “a sequential dimension (the fact that teaching each of these components follows a programming and progression plan according to an explicitly planned temporal order)”. Whether this is an expressly sought or non-programmed result, it can be assumed that the whole formed by a curriculum is superior to the sum of its components. For example, a course can be structured like a set of very distinct themes, independent from one another, or as a sequence, showing a progression in the knowledge or history of a discipline – each of these options can convey quite different visions of the same knowledge content (Lemaître, 2009: 24). Similarly, in the curriculum of engineering schools, variations in the relative weight and the methods of linking different disciplines, depending on educational institutions, contributes to producing specific professional models (Deslespierre, 2015; Barrier and Quéré, 2016).

At the Heart of Knowledge Production and Legitimization: The Specificities of the Higher Education Curriculum

15As the notion of curriculum has primarily been addressed in the framework of school education (Forquin, 2008; Harlé, 2010), we would like to highlight two issues specifically pertaining to higher education. This will allow us to clarify the scope of our remarks, and also to illustrate why higher education offers particularly interesting features from a sociology of curriculum point of view.

  • 7 Thus, from the late 19th century to the end of the 1960s, university teaching in France was regulat (...)

16First, higher education is characterized by specific modes of selection and organization of the knowledge taught, which makes the analysis of curriculum construction particularly relevant regarding teaching staff and institutions. First and foremost, although teachers generally have a large degree of autonomy in their daily teaching practices, those in higher education have even more power over the choice and definition of their teaching content. For example, in the current French context, although national programs of secondary education prescribe specific content, the rules governing the construction of degree programs in universities are largely procedural: they define broad guidelines (hourly volumes, course validation, etc.), and academics have great autonomy in defining content. Therefore, even if the situation varies depending on the institutions, disciplines, countries or periods considered7, higher education curricula tend, for the most part, to be defined at a teaching staff and institutional level.

17Historically, this relates to the affirmation of power and autonomy of academics as a professional group, at the pinnacle of the education system’s symbolic hierarchy. The control exerted by academics over the definition of their teaching also encompasses the link between knowledge transmission and production in higher education. Since the end of the 19th century, research activities have played an increasing role in most higher education institutions, even in sectors where they were traditionally weak, like French business schools (Blanchard, 2015). In this context, teaching is also one of the ways for academics to control the development and reproduction of their scientific specialty (Gingras, 1991), resulting in fierce competition between disciplines in constructing curricula.

  • 8 As evidenced, for example, by the interventions of some economic actors in French debates on the te (...)

18The second major specificity of curricula in higher education relates to the way in which they form a political issue for different social groups (Slaughter, 2002). Although the definition of school curricula represents a strongly politicized and publicized issue8, this is less the case in higher education, where debates on curricula are generally more subdued, considered as “technical” and confined to restricted spaces. Nevertheless, curricula can be a real power issue, especially for economic, administrative or political elites. Due to the role assigned to higher education institutions in producing, certifying and transmitting theoretical knowledge, they are a centerpiece in legitimizing professional groups whose power is based on controlling abstract knowledge (Abbott, 1988). Furthermore, in a context where access to higher education has considerably expanded, the sector is one of the pivotal places socializing individuals, supposed to complete their education by preparing them to occupy a social and professional position. Consequently, the ability to influence teaching orientations is a key challenge for a number of employers in the private or public sector – especially in elite institutions in France, but also in specialized vocational schools, strongly rooted in an economic sector. Moreover, the highly “decentralized” character of curriculum definition in higher education, in addition to the links directly forged between academics and the economic world, offer multiple opportunities for different groups to intervene in the process. In short, in the words of Mitchell Stevens and his colleagues (2008), higher education appears to be a “hub”, at the interface between the labor market, economy, science, and the state, whose importance can only be strengthened by the mobilizing myth of “the knowledge economy”.

From Knowledge Production to Transmission in Education: Theoretical Issues and Empirical Contributions of a Curriculum Approach

19As we have noted, a series of French and international works have addressed curricula in higher education, according to different disciplinary points of view and objectives. Education sciences, history and sociology of sciences, organization theory, research on socialization, political science: many research areas overlap around this object. In fact, despite the relatively significant number of works, their overall visibility as a research theme remains fairly weak in France. With this in mind, we propose a rereading of the existing literature, giving an overview of different bodies of work and highlighting possible connections between them. The aim here is not to assess the consistency of these diverse studies, but to use them to underline the theoretical questions they raise as well as their empirical contributions. We propose grouping them according to three main lines of research: links between knowledge production and teaching; logics and protagonists in the recontextualization of knowledge; the links of the latter with the socialization of student populations.

Knowledge Production, Processes of Curricula Recontextualization and Construction

20To begin with, a variety of research can be identified that, without neglecting (the study of) institutional factors, has the common feature of emphasizing the content, production processes and structure of knowledge in order to understand the construction of education programs.

21While the study of the social processes of knowledge production is at the core of the history and sociology of sciences, this literature usually overlooks how knowledge is transmitted (Mody and Kaiser, 2008). However, some works provide stimulating avenues for reflection to understand the connection between knowledge production and curriculum. From this point of view, it is useful to challenge the fairly widespread idea that teaching is not a relevant object for studying knowledge production. Indeed, unlike in laboratories, where it is possible to observe “science in the making”, teaching is quite often equated with the simple transposition of already well-formed knowledge, corresponding to the canons of “normal science” (Kuhn, 1962). Yet, in some cases, teaching activities play a major role in the rise and institutionalization of new scientific knowledge. Buhm Soon Park (2005) demonstrates that the success of molecular orbital theory in chemistry is largely explained by the reformulation carried out by its promotors, aiming to facilitate its integration into university teaching. By seeking to make certain concepts accessible and to show their implications, they contributed to forging analysis tools and a language adopted by an increasing number of scientists.

22Additionally, the recontextualization of scientific knowledge for teaching purposes not only involves selecting certain ideas to the detriment of others but may in turn have an effect on scientific dynamics. This process is clearly visible in the emergence of chemical engineering as a scientific specialty (Rosenberg and Steinmuller, 2013). The latter originated from a set of industrial practices and knowledge that were reorganized in a more theoretical form to be taught in engineering schools. By transposing this industrial knowledge into an academic environment, academics were driven to consolidate its analytical rigor, internal consistency and generality, thus laying the foundations for a scientific research activity in its own right. These two cases are cited by way of illustration, but entirely comparable processes can be found in other works, also highlighting the role of teaching in constructing and institutionalizing new disciplinary knowledge, like constitutional law (Sacriste, 2011) or European Community law (Bailleux 2014).

  • 9 This perspective was extended by the theoretical contributions of authors like Michael Young, Johan (...)
  • 10 Nevertheless, as P. Vitale (2006) stresses, more convergent visions of the discipline can be found (...)

23Although these questions of knowledge recontextualization in education are de facto addressed by several sociology or history of science works, they notably lie at the heart of a body of research continuing B. Bernstein’s work9. Its overall hypothesis is that the structuring of different types of knowledge must be considered in order to understand its recontextualization in education. These works particularly concern the recontextualization of knowledge established in the form of disciplines. These are referred to as “singulars” (Bernstein, 2000): oriented toward their own development, they are characterized by a certain internal epistemic consistency and by the affirmation of external boundaries. Each discipline is thus defined by a specific morphology of knowledge: they are particularly distinguished by a variable degree of segmentation or, on the contrary, by internal integration. The challenge is then to understand the relationship between the knowledge structure as it is established, on the one hand, in the field of knowledge production and, on the other hand, as it is recontextualized in a curriculum. This approach is well illustrated by the works of Philippe Vitale (2006) and Kathy Luckett (2009) on the teaching of sociology, indicating that curricula tend to reproduce the discipline’s segmented structure, marked by the coexistence of rival paradigms10.

  • 11 J. Muller and M. Young (2014) draw an interesting parallel between the notion of regionalization an (...)

24Other works undertaken in this vein also examine the consequences of vocationalism and demands for a more multidisciplinary-oriented approach in higher education, considering them from the angle of a “regionalization of knowledge” (see Stavrou, 2017, and the article in this issue). For B. Bernstein, the notion of region refers to a category of knowledge organization based on combining elements from different disciplines, with the aim of better responding to practical issues. The tendency to “regionalize” knowledge is typical of professional training: for example, management education simultaneously borrows from psychology, economics, sociology, etc. Relayed by initiatives aiming to more closely align university curricula and labor market expectations, the regionalization of knowledge is becoming widespread in higher education. Yet, it goes against the disciplinary organization of knowledge, at the very foundation of the university institution (Muller and Young, 2014)11. In this regard, Norman Brady (2015) points out that the break with disciplinary logics in the name of the professionalization of education can result in adverse effects. For example, analyzing the case of a business school, he indicates that the fragmentation of teaching in the form of flexible modules, as well as its disconnection from conceptual knowledge, leads to “epistemic chaos”, fragilizing curriculum consistency for students.

25Finally, the issue of building the knowledge taught is also viewed from another angle by a series of works carried out in the theoretical framework of John Meyer’s world society (Meyer, 2010). This approach looks at the construction and the global diffusion of a set of norms, cultural scripts and models of reality originating from Western countries, promoting an ideal of rationalization increasingly disseminated around the world. Considering the role attributed to universities in this context, and academic knowledge’s claims to universality, teaching is both the reflection and motor of this dominant worldview (Meyer et al., 2007). To document this process at a university level, several works are based on the quantitative and longitudinal analysis of large datasets built from university course catalogues and faculty directories (Frank et al., 1994; Robinson, 2011). Among them, David John Frank and Jay Gabler (2006) retrace the evolution, during the 20th century, of all subjects taught in universities from around one hundred different countries. They thereby identify several major trends, strongly homogenous from one country to another, stressing in particular the decline in humanities and the spectacular rise of social sciences over the 20th century. For these authors, this tendency reflects the triumph of a vision according to which the social order is subject to scientific scrutiny: running counter to a religious thought model, society has become an object that can be planned and rationalized.

Politics, Social Groups and Institutional Logics in the Making of Curricula

26A second way to address curricula in higher education consists of placing greater emphasis on the political issues, social groups and institutional processes that preside over their construction. Although these works do not all adopt the same degree of precision in describing and analyzing knowledge contents, they have the advantage of clearly showing how the selection and organization of knowledge taught are shaped by professional interests, power relationships or social hierarchies.

27First, from this perspective, it is possible to examine the practices and strategies of faculty members, who are the primary actors in constructing curricula. Several works thus concentrate on how academics adapt to reforms promoting changes in the organization, format, or aim of teaching. Through case studies conducted in different departments or institutions, they aim at understanding how degrees and curricula are developed, by showing how institutional policies and prescriptions do, or do not, shape teaching content. In France, national accreditation procedures for diplomas typically relay ministerial injunctions, for example, to encourage vocationalism in higher education (Stavrou, 2017). While underscoring the diversity of responses adopted by academics, the works in this vein note their will to defend their professional autonomy and disciplinary interests. This translates into circumvention strategies, or even mere window-dressing practices, in which existing teaching is only slightly adapted to superficially conform to institutional injunctions – as shown by Dominique Maillard and Patrick Veneau (2006) concerning vocational degrees, or Séverine Louvel (2013) regarding masters in nanoscience in France.

28For the same reasons, academics can very partially and selectively appropriate initiatives promoting the use of digital tools in teaching, like Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). As these tools can have a significant impact on the content and organization of teaching, academics can see them as an attempt to rationalize their work (Miladi, 2006) or fear having specific teaching formats imposed upon them (O’Connor, 2014). Beyond strategies aiming to protect teaching content from institutional constraints, the relationships with knowledge and with specific disciplinary norms expressed in these times of reform can also be explored. By comparing the implementation of the Bologna process in history programs in three countries, Marte Mangset (2009) illustrates that the conception of the discipline and profession prevailing in different academic departments strongly orients the local choices reshaping the curriculum.

29By moving up a notch in the scale of observation, the configurations of actors that influence institutions’ internal choices can also be examined. This question is notably at the center of different works interested in the role of economic and administrative elites. For example, according to David Noble (1977), the training of American engineers at the beginning of the 20th century was largely defined by emerging large firms. These companies promoted the development of management courses in order to train executives to accompany the rationalization of their organizational structures. However, the influence of these social groups depends on the configurations in which the institutions operate. Jonathan Harwood (2010) shows that the dominant orientation (practical or scientific) of agricultural education in the late 19th and early 20th century in Germany varied significantly from one region to another, due to differences in the structure, needs and priorities of the local politico-economic field. Additionally, the evolution of these configurations over time can translate into redefinitions of the content and place of some teaching, as shown by Annie Dufour (1999) regarding sociology in a French agricultural college.

30More broadly, the detailed analysis of interactions between businesses and education institutions breaks with the simplistic image of a relationship between a “demand for” and a “supply of” education. Rather, processes of “joint construction” (Cochoy, 1999) can be observed: businesses participate in defining the curriculum, and institutions also contribute to introducing new knowledge and practices into the economic world. These configurations are also marked by power struggles: the shifting structure of power relationships within administrative elites account for the evolution of training content for administrative executives and civil servants in France, at the École des Ponts et Chaussées ([elite civil engineering school] Gervais, 2007), ENA (Biland and Kolopp, 2013), or in the Instituts régionaux d’administration ([IRAs: Regional Administration Institutes] Quéré, 2017). Without establishing an automatic link between power struggles and curriculum contents, these works highlight how different actors promote certain types of knowledge, practices and administrative models in education, so as to establish or defend their legitimacy. For example, the evolution in teaching economics at the ENA since 1945 reflects – and contributes to institutionalize – changes in the way that administrative elites think about the state’s methods of intervention in the economy (Kolopp, 2013).

31Looking beyond these elites, some research has also noted the role that social and student movements can play, particularly focusing on struggles led in the United States by marginalized social groups to reform or develop new teaching contents. With a growing number of women and members of ethnic minorities in higher education, demands to open or revise the traditional curriculum have gained increasing political weight (Slaughter, 2002). However, their effects on teaching are not straightforward and the various motivations, successes and consequences of these movements should be explained depending on the institutions or specialties considered. Research in this area includes that of David Yamane (2001) on the introduction of a multicultural general education requirement in US universities, Fabio Rojas (2007) on the institutionalization of African-American studies, and Mikaila Arthur’s comparative work (2012) on Asian studies, Women’s studies and Queer studies programs.

32Lastly, completing the analysis of the role played by different social groups, many works point out the structural effects exerted by the institutions’ inclusion in different spaces of competition, social hierarchies and symbolic statuses. This issue is represented in several works carried out in the United States from an institutionalist perspective (Di Maggio and Powell, 1983), examining how the institutions’ quest for symbolic legitimacy orients the type of teaching that they offer. Running counter to the dominant idea in North America that “student demand” is the main driver of curricular changes, these works stress the role played by effects of imitation or distinction between institutions (Gumport and Snydman, 2002). Therefore, although the pressure of public authorities encourages the development of training linked to professional sectors (Hashem, 2007), the wealthiest and most prestigious institutions continue to distinguish themselves through the adoption and development of new degree programs. Quantitative analyses indicate that they remain pioneers in the creation of new generalist teaching fields, especially multi-disciplinary oriented fields, while resisting the adoption of occupational programs (Brint et al., 2008, Brint et al. 2011).

33These results are similar to those of a body of research on grandes écoles (elite higher education institutions) in France, where the logics of institutions’ social and symbolic positioning are particularly prominent (Bourdieu, 1989). Following the works of Terry Shinn (1978, 1981), which thoroughly highlighted the link between students’ social characteristics, teaching content and the positioning of institutions, several recent studies have focused on French engineering schools. Antoine Derouet (2013) demonstrates how, from the 19th century, the positioning strategies of the French École centrale (elite engineering education institution) have translated into important reorientations in the place and content of the teaching of law that it offers, while Adrien Delespierre (2015) emphasizes that the distribution between “generalist” and “specialized” education continues to strongly structure the symbolic hierarchy of institutions in the field of engineering education

Curriculum, Socialization and Knowledge Transmission

34A body of research focusing on higher education has taken an interest in what is transmitted informally, and what is acquired diffusely, outside official objectives. This attention to the “hidden curriculum” (Portelli 1993) relates to a general issue in sociology: examining the socializing effects on adults of institutions, and of higher education institutions in particular.

35For a long time, sociology addressed this question by setting aside the analysis of the content of knowledge taught and pedagogical relationships, to especially concentrate on the institutional aspects of socialization. This involved a distancing from the official discourse of education institutions, by showing that they not only transmit learned knowledge and expertise, but also ethics, worldviews or professional cultures. For functionalist sociology, for example, the transmission of physicians’ knowledge and internalization of their professional practices above all occur in daily contact with the institutional setting of the hospital, which makes the inculcation of a specific professional culture possible (Merton and al., 1957). From a different theoretical perspective, Howard Becker and his colleagues (1961) analyzed the daily life of medical students, from their first year until their medical specialty exam, to understand how they learn to master university codes then progressively acquire a professional culture. This perspective has been extended by many works, such as those of Yves-Marie Abraham (2007) on the French École des hautes études commerciales (HEC School of Management), which show how students learn to distance themselves from academic culture, by gradually immersing themselves in the managerial norms expected in the course of their profession. Other examples are the works of Muriel Darmon (2013) and Marianne Blanchard and her colleagues (2017) on French classes préparatoires (special programs preparing students for competitive admission exams to French Grandes Écoles) as well as those of Sophie Orange on Brevet de Technicien Supérieur ([BTS: advanced technician’s certificate]) courses (Orange, 2013), considering the skills, dispositions and social aspirations forged in this training.

36Without denying the richness of such an approach, several works have suggested paying more attention to the cognitive content of teaching, by showing their effects in terms of socialization, especially in occupational or professional education. To understand the training of certain professionals, it is not enough to consider the instilling of an ethos, abilities or cultural codes, and it is important to examine the transmission of knowledge and the depth of reasoning patterns. This is, for example, what Elizabeth Mertz (2007) offers in her ethnographic study of the teaching provided in American law schools. They are ideal places to observe processes of professional socialization to law professions. By observing these courses and class interactions, she illustrates that students learn a specific way of thinking: describing reality by detaching themselves from particular situations, then reshaping it in abstract categories specific to legal language. Thereby, the teaching of law conveys a specific ideology, according to a representation of reality that appears to be neutral, but in fact tends to erase the political dimension of social situations and naturalize the norms of a capitalist economy.

37This ethnographic approach to knowledge transmission has also been mobilized by a series of French works in order to consider the socializing effects of legal knowledge (Biland and Israël 2011, Aït-Aoudia, Vanneuville, 2013). One of the challenges consisted of emphasizing the conception of the profession that is embedded in the curriculum of higher education institutions: training content entails a set of knowledge, representations and norms that model professional practices and a position in the social division of labor. Consequently, observing training means studying how higher education institutions devise particular types of professionals. For example, Antoine Derouet and Delphine Thivet (2015) highlight the ways in which the acquisition of legal knowledge allows engineers to reach positions of power.

38While taking into consideration the content of knowledge, another series of works suggests analyzing “what is learnt” both in and outside courses. This involves better understanding the socialization of individuals, by showing how the learning of formal and informal knowledge, expertise, skills and dispositions is linked. This approach is particularly fruitful for analyzing training in vocational and professional schools, where studying the curriculum encompasses both the selection and transmission of knowledge, as well as the socialization of students. Without ignoring the effects of past trajectories and primary socialization on the transformation of occupational abilities (Bazsanger 1983; Pichonnaz and Toffel, 2018), it is a case of analytically understanding the interlacing of knowledge transmitted within higher education institutions. Samuel Bouron (2014), for example, demonstrates that journalism schools rework students’ dispositions through a dual process of formalizing knowledge and implementing a more informal institutional framework. In this respect, studying the transformation of dispositions through practices (socialization “in the making”), linked to the study of training content, shows the institutional work of positioning students in a division of labor (Bouron 2014, Pichonnaz 2014, Quéré 2019), or more broadly in social hierarchies (Lozach 2018).

39Lastly, reflecting on socialization through the prism of the curriculum is also an invitation to question the relationship between students and the knowledge transmitted to them. As Mathias Millet (2003) demonstrates, the appropriation of knowledge varies depending on the trajectory and social characteristics of individuals, and on the very content of knowledge taught. At university, each disciplinary subject is characterized by a specific “matrix” in its material conditions of operation, intellectual tradition, organization of knowledge and use of particular teaching methods. By comparing medical and sociological studies, the author then illustrates that the modes of appropriating knowledge and concrete learning practices are fundamentally different according to these “disciplinary matrixes”. From this perspective, the French Instituts d’études politiques (IEPs: Institutes of Political Studies), where an important number of disciplines mix within the same curriculum, is a very interesting case study. Within the IEPs, it is possible to observe how individuals with different social properties show different appetites for one or another discipline, which has an impact on their subsequent professional trajectory (Lozach, 2018).

40Indeed, a growing number of works on curricula in higher education are focusing on the conditions of access to knowledge and learning, by emphasizing the viewpoint of students (see, in particular, the issue coordinated by Paul Ashwin, 2014). The question of access to higher education does not simply relate to its social opening to populations from working-class backgrounds or marginalized ethnic groups: it also involves reflecting on the epistemological access to teaching content. Beyond the relationships that individuals with diverse social profiles maintain with knowledge, the effects generated by different pedagogies or forms of curriculum organization should be examined (Dhunpath and Subbaye, 2018). The way in which curricula are designed and organized, as well as the tools and material devices which are used, can have significant effects on learning (Shay, 2016). The issue of the capacity of individuals to mobilize and integrate knowledge from the different disciplines represented in the curriculum is of particular importance (Maton, 2009). This capacity can vary greatly depending on the pedagogy used to help students navigating between different courses (Case, 2011). Likewise, in work-linked training, students are constantly faced with the problem of transposing between university teaching and learning in companies: this depends not only on the pedagogical guidance they are offered, but also on the very organization of the curriculum (Veillard, 2012, 2017). Therefore, analyzing the processes of socialization in and by education can be enriched by better considering the content and organizational forms of knowledge.

Presentation of the contributions to this special issue

41In line with the research that we have just presented, the articles composing this issue cover different levels of curricula analysis in higher education. They address the conditions of institutionalization of curricula, the processes involved in the selection and organization of knowledge, as well as their socializing dimension.

42The first two articles highlight the institutional and disciplinary conditions prevailing in the creation of curricula. Guillaume Richard studies the reasons for the failure of a project redefining university law teaching under the 3rd Republic, aiming to open it to extra-legal knowledge in order to shape “government science”. The article sheds light on the institutional constraints influencing this reform initiative: on the one hand, the highly centralized and disciplinary structure of French higher education, leaving little room for a multi-disciplinary approach; on the other hand, the competition from the École libre des sciences politiques (today Sciences Po Paris), an institution outside the university system, regarding the training of elites. Ioana Popa’s article specifically deals with the innovation capacities of French education institutions situated at the margins of universities: Sciences Po Paris and the École pratique des hautes études. Based on sociohistorical research on these two institutions, the author retraces the conditions of institutionalization of “area studies” programs post-1945. She underlines the importance of the organizational flexibility of these two institutions, which have great freedom in managing their activities and benefit from a mix of public and private, national and international, funding. Added to this flexibility is the intellectual flexibility of the “area studies” label: having no a priori scientific consistency, it has above all served to attract funding from American foundations and to somehow combine scattered areas of knowledge in diverse disciplines. Although “area studies” today form a recognized and autonomous specialty, their institutionalization was built on an institutional, scientific and political bricolage.

43The next two articles consider the content and organization of teaching by linking them with the labor market. Based on the comparison between two French journalism schools, Ivan Chupin questions the mechanisms differentiating their curriculum, even though these schools are also subjected to an accreditation process supposedly providing a common training model. The author shows that this differentiation relates to both the positionings of these two schools in the professional hierarchy and their training project: one is dominated and asserts its distance from employers; the other is located at the top of the status hierarchy and emphasizes its proximity to the labor market. These positionings translate into different ways of viewing the professionalization of students, which are characterized by the place given to internships, the emphasis put on specialized teaching or not, or even the role given to companies in training and their modes of intervention. Sophia Stavrou’s article also pertains to the issue of the vocationalization of university education, by studying recent developments in several master’s degrees in the social sciences and the humanities. The analysis underlines the characteristics of this process as much regarding the content of knowledge, the pedagogy used, as regarding academics. The author stresses the loss of autonomy of education in relation to economic, political and administrative logics, and examines the transformations of relationships with disciplines that play out within this “regionalization of knowledge”.

44Marie David’s and Sylvia Marques’ articles offer a different viewpoint, by focusing on the analysis of teachers’ work in constructing education programs. The former is interested in the collective development of courses in the first cycles of science and sociology in a French university. Although the specific epistemic culture of each discipline shapes the organization of knowledge and teaching, the characteristics of the student population should also be considered, as well as the profession’s material conditions and local orders stabilizing cooperation and negotiation between academics. The latter, Sylvia Marques, concentrates on an initiative put in place in the early 2010s at the Université d’Angers following a national reform aimed at reorganizing modes of access to health studies, subject to a restrictive numerus clausus. The author demonstrates that the institution seized upon this national reform to respond to local concerns. The curriculum’s revision was seen as a way to manage student flows according to the institution’s own interests: this involved ensuring that students judged to be “proficient”, but excluded by the numerus clausus, were not “lost” by the university, by reorienting them toward degree programs with declining enrollment. However, she notes that these ambitions were often diverted from their initial purpose by a section of the student population, who strategically used the system’s weaknesses to increase their chances of success.

45Finally, although several articles evoke the socializing role of curricula (I. Chupin, S. Stavrou), Ruggero Iori’s article is especially interested in this dimension, via an ethnographic study of social work training in France and Italy. The author exposes the motivations behind the socialization to the profession which, in both countries, involves working on the very personality of students, to make them acquire specific dispositions that they will then mobilize in interactions with populations in difficulty. This socialization is not only based on a variety of institutional arrangements – such as hazing – but also on the transmission of a body of psychological knowledge. R. Iori thus shows that the knowledge mobilized, and the way in which it informs pedagogical practices, base the profession of social worker on the individuality of its professionals, contributing to the “psychologization” of social relationships.

46To conclude the presentation of the contributions to this issue, we propose a cross-reading of these seven articles, fed by M. Young’s analyses, which are an invitation to connect the “principles of selection and organization that underly curricula to their institutional and interactional setting in schools and classrooms and to the wider social structure” (Young, 1971b: 24). With this in mind, three more general lessons can be drawn from this issue’s contributions, relating to the political dimension of curricula, their inclusion in social and institutional hierarchies and, lastly, the professional logics that structure them.

47First of all, most of the contributions underline the eminently political nature of the making of curricula in higher education, where modes of knowledge selection, organization and transmission are affected by intense struggles over power and legitimacy.

48This is firstly due to the fact that higher education has, for a long time, been a political issue in France, as evidenced in G. Richard’s and I. Popa’s historical articles on initiatives helping reinforce the divide between the university system and elite institutions. The political attention to higher education, although not new, appears to have increased since the 1980s. In discourses heralding the advent of a “knowledge economy”, higher education is presented as a decisive sector for economic competitiveness and growth, setting the stage for demands for developing stronger links with the business world, as S. Stavrou shows in this issue. These contributions indicate how activities developing and transmitting knowledge have to do with political issues, related more specifically to the overall structuring of the mode of knowledge production

49The political dimension of higher education also relates to the fact that it is a place of knowledge legitimization, especially of government knowledge. The reform of legal education that G. Richard analyzes is specifically part of this problem with defining the knowledge intended to train state elites, just as the institutionalization of areas studies is inseparable from diplomatic concerns (I. Popa in this issue). This legitimizing dimension is a motivation for the involvement of social groups in producing or defending specific forms of knowledge: I. Chupin demonstrates that the formalization of journalistic knowledge was explicitly designed as a means for the profession to construct its autonomy in relation to political and financial powers.

50Lastly, R. Iori’s contribution also draws attention to the values and representations conveyed by curricula. It illustrates how the training of social workers is instrumental in producing professionals adapted to individualized and individualizing social policies: the work on students’ personalities goes hand in hand with the construction of a figure of the public service user responsible for their life. By pointing out the contribution of this training to the government’s policy on disadvantaged populations, this article prompts scrutiny of the political dimension of curricula, the representations of the social world that they both contain and contribute to (re)producing.

51A second cross-cutting contribution of this issue is to show how social hierarchies and institutional arrangements help shape curricula, indicating the utility of a meso-sociological approach to specifically unfold the process underway.

52For example, I. Popa’s detailed reconstitution of the emergence of “area studies” programs helps avoid the conclusion that they were simply imported from the United States. Instead, a process of retranslation and interpretation, in light of already existing intellectual traditions and institutions in the French context, can be observed. More still, I. Chupin shows how training can, in return, play a role in reproducing existing structures. The two journalism schools that he studies occupy unequal positions in the status hierarchy of the educational system. Through their positioning, each has forged close relationships with clearly distinct – and unequally valued – segments in the professional media sector. By orienting training content and graduate integration, these networks of relationships in turn contribute to maintaining the hierarchy of schools and reproducing different segments of the journalism profession.

53Emphasizing the social and institutional arrangements shaping curricula does not prevent pointing out variations at a local level. This perspective, common to all the contributions, is well illustrated by S. Stayrou’s article. The latter allows us to better understand the reconfigurations of the social sciences and the humanities in France, whose knowledge is increasingly conceived as “accompanying techniques” with a professional aim (Piriou, 2015, p. 106). S. Stavrou demonstrates that although these demands are omnipresent in universities, they translate very differently into curricula. They combine, to varying degrees, the transmission of disciplinary knowledge, (acquisition of professional experiences and construction of graduates’ employability, encouraging a thorough examination of the reconfigurations underway under general watchwords.

54Several articles also revisit the link between social classes and curriculum, adding further insights to works on the social inequalities of student access and success at university (Bodin and Orange, 2013; Allouch, 2017). R. Iori underlines that, despite a discourse euphemizing inequality, the very content of social work training plays a role in disqualifying students from working-class backgrounds and “naturalizing” specific middle- and upper-class dispositions. More broadly, the social characteristics of student populations, varying depending on the subjects and disciplines considered (Renisio, 2015), partly determine the range of possible teaching practices, as shown in the comparison made by M. David between sociology and science. Regarding the Université d’Angers, S. Marques suggests that the effects of the new system of student access to health studies are ultimately explained by the students’ dispositions. Mostly from the middle to upper classes, this population is characterized by an acute strategic sense in its relationships with studies, driving it to “play” with the system to the point of diverting its functions.

55Thirdly, these different contributions suggest that the construction of knowledge in the curriculum can be analyzed with a sociology of work approach, particularly in the perspective of studying the evolutions of “knowledge-intensive” occupations (Gorman and Sandefur, 2011). More specifically, the study of curriculum opens up stimulating avenues of reflection for a sociology of teaching practices in higher education, traditionally less developed than the study of research activities (Musselin, 2008, Bodin et al., 2018).

56The interaction with a class or amphitheater is often considered to be the most emblematic part of teaching. Yet, this issue clearly highlights the crucial role of practices aiming at shaping and organizing knowledge, less immediately visible, but ultimately making its transmission possible in class. Without neglecting institutional aspects, which have already been pointed out, we would like to emphasize the cognitive dimensions of this “curricular work” (Lessard and Tardiff, 1999). To begin with, it involves an entire process of selecting, harmonizing, classifying, and labelling knowledge, which is all the more intense when it takes place in an emerging field of knowledge, as I. Popa illustrates in the exemplary case of “area studies”. The academics promoting these teachings did more than gather together specialties that were fragmented until then: they redefined the boundaries between different areas of knowledge and delegitimized others. The organization of the curriculum also has a sequential dimension, revolving around the management of student trajectories: in addition to the management student flows addressed by S. Marques, the example of social workers studied by R. Iori suggests that the construction of a biographical narrative by students may be a key aspect of the learning process. In the latter case, it plays a major role in shaping their identity as professionals.

57These activities are also part of a collective division of labor and more or less conflictual (or cooperative) relationships. This issue is at the center of M. David’s article, which is explicitly placed in the framework of a sociology of academic work. In line with Knorr-Cetina’s works (1999) on “epistemic cultures” in research, M. David shows that the differences between disciplines are manifested both in the ways of forming objects of knowledge, and in the organization of course preparation. Moreover, echoing many works in science studies, she underscores that this collective work is materialized into various devices (practical work in science, readers or collections of texts in sociology); in return, they structure teaching activities and are instrumental in their coordination. The question of the social and cognitive division of the teaching work is also reflected in links forged with businesses in training with a professional aim. In the journalism schools studied by I. Chupin, the goal of professionalizing students relies on delegating a large part of training to working journalists – who participate in this even more willingly as it enables them to identify students for recruitment. Although the professionalization of master’s degrees studied by S. Stavrou helps non-academic practitioners to reach the heart of university education, reconfigurations within the university staff itself can also be observed, with individuals having greater entrepreneurial skills, maintaining a more distanced relationship with disciplinary knowledge.


58To conclude, we hope that this special issue will arouse an interest in a curriculum approach to understand the challenges crystallized around knowledge in higher education. Among the elements that seem to us to deserve particular attention – which are not, or only marginally, developed in the proposed articles -, three issues could be further investigated.

59The first concerns the appropriation of knowledge by students, considered from the viewpoint of processes of socialization. Although, as we have underlined, several works have already addressed this issue (Millet, 2003; Darmon 2013; Iori, 2018; Quéré, 2019), the extent to which students’ learning has lasting effects on their ways of acting and thinking has yet to be understood. In particular, to the best of our knowledge, the way in which the dispositions, skills, and capabilities learnt through higher education are enacted and evolve in the course of professional practice has been little studied so far (but, for instance, see Case and Marshall, 2016).

60Secondly, although many links have already been made between works on socialization and education research, as well as between didactics and sociology, the issue of curriculum encourages a closer dialogue between sociology of education and sociology of science. More specifically, the question of the effects of the structure of knowledge taught (Bernstein, 2000; Maton, 2009; Muller and Young, 2014) seems to us to echo analyses highlighting the epistemic properties of different forms of research (Laudel and Gläser, 2014); the challenge is then to understand how social logics, organizational forms and epistemic structures are connected. In the same vein, analyzing the content and transmission modes of the knowledge taught could rely on the contributions of science studies, pertaining to the embeddedness of knowledge in teaching tools, personal expertise, collectives and material devices

61Finally, it would also be interesting to provide greater insight into the evolution of curricula with the economic, institutional and political reconfigurations underway in higher education for some thirty years. Already adopted by some works (Mangset, 2009; Stavrou, 2017), this perspective would be especially relevant in light of the debates on “academic capitalism” (Rhoades and Slaughter, 2004). Although much research has noted the rise of private actors and market logics in university research, these transformations still need to be more precisely studied from the point of view of teaching practices and content. This could include the role played by private accreditation agencies, or EdTech companies promoting new technologies for learning (Thomas and Nedeva, 2018). More broadly, this would involve further analysis of interactions between companies and higher education institutions on the definition of curricula, focusing on the way in which pedagogical tools, theoretical knowledge and professional practices are jointly established (Cochoy, 1999). With this in mind, the use of ethnographic methods, already mobilized to observe courses, could be extended to study situations where teaching content is negotiated, developed and put into practice, in order to understand the curricula “in the making”.

We would like to thank the Revue d’Anthropologie des Connaissances’ reviewers for their comments regarding previous versions of this article, as well as the Laboratoire Triangle (UMR 5206 CNRS), the Réseau d’études sur l’Enseignement Supérieur (RESUP) and the Laboratoire de l’Education (UMS 3773 CNRS/ENS Lyon), for their financial support. Finally, our warmest thanks to the issue’s contributors for their investment in this project.

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1 From 1904-1905, in L’évolution pédagogique en France [Pedagogical Evolution in France] ([1938] 1999: 16), É. Durkheim proposed an analysis of teaching content using a sociohistorical approach. He argued that teaching and knowledge structures said something about the state of society and power relations: “We will see…that each of these [pedagogical] systems had nothing arbitrary…that if it has changed it is because society itself has changed”.

2 On this point, it is interesting to note that the idea that academic knowledge is socially constructed has provoked lively debates on epistemological relativism and its implications for education policies (Young, 2008).

3 Our presentation here is very partial, but we note that, for B. Bernstein, the analysis of processes of recontextualization is part of a more general theory of the “pedagogic device”. This analysis revolves around three themes: the field of knowledge production (where knowledge is created), the field of knowledge reproduction (where knowledge is acquired) and the field of recontextualization, which is at the interface of the former two (Bernstein, 2000).

4 On teaching physics at university, see in particular Cécile de Hosson’s works (de Hosson et al., 2018)

5 This principle also applies to understanding relationships between different disciplines within a curriculum, whose degree of integration or of differentiation at an epistemic level reflects, and contributes to producing, an organizational division of labor between teachers (Bernstein, 1971).

6 This point is particularly stressed by Daniel Frandji and Philippe Vitale (2007) regarding B. Bernstein’s works on education.

7 Thus, from the late 19th century to the end of the 1960s, university teaching in France was regulated by national procedures, making any changes difficult (Musselin, 2001). In fact, academics still have to contend with sometimes restrictive rules accrediting courses (Stavrou, 2013). Inversely, schools also participate in knowledge construction (Chervel, 1998) and have some leeway faced with national programs (Isambert-Jamati, 1990).

8 As evidenced, for example, by the interventions of some economic actors in French debates on the teaching of economic and social sciences in high school (APSES, 2018).

9 This perspective was extended by the theoretical contributions of authors like Michael Young, Johan Muller and Karl Maton. Presenting these works would go beyond the scope of this introductory section, but these contributions can be consulted together in D. Frandji and P. Vitale (2007).

10 Nevertheless, as P. Vitale (2006) stresses, more convergent visions of the discipline can be found at the level of one or another university department.

11 J. Muller and M. Young (2014) draw an interesting parallel between the notion of regionalization and the theory of a transformation of knowledge production modes (Gibbons et al., 1994).

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Julien Barrier, Olivier Quéré et Rachel Vanneuville, « The Making of Curriculum in Higher Education »Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances [En ligne], 13-1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2019, consulté le 10 avril 2020. URL :

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Julien Barrier

Associate professor in sociology at the ENS de Lyon, researcher at the Laboratoire Triangle (UMR CNRS 5206), member of the Institut français de l’éducation and the Laboratoire de l’éducation (UMS CNRS 3773). His research focuses primarily on reconfigurations in higher education and research since the 1970s, especially regarding the intensification of relationships between the academic world and companies. To this end, having worked on research transformations in the micro- and nanotechnology sector, he is currently conducting research on the role of industry in defining engineering education.

Address: Triangle – UMR 5206, parvis René Descartes, FR-69007 Lyon (France).
E-mail: julien.barrier[at]

Olivier Quéré

Associate professor in political science at the Université de Haute Alsace and member of the Laboratoire SAGE (UMR 7363). His research mainly concentrates on the state and civil service, at the intersection of sociology of public action and sociology of socialization. He also studies knowledge transformations in higher education and disability policies. Drawn from his PhD dissertation, the work entitled L’Atelier de l’État. La formation des cadres intermédiaires de la fonction publique dans les Instituts régionaux d’administration (The Making of Middle-Ranking Officials. Training and Assigning a Position to attachés in Regional Administration Institutes [IRA]) was published by Presses universitaires de Rennes in 2019.

Address: Laboratoire SAGE, MISHA, 5 allée du Général Rouvillois, FR-67000 Strasbourg (France).
E-mail: olivier.quere[at]

Rachel Vanneuville

Researcher at the CNRS in political science, assigned to the Laboratoire Triangle (UMR 5206) in Lyon. Her research subjects predominantly relate to historical methods of legitimizing law and administrative judges, and the contemporary legal training of French elites.

Address: Triangle – UMR 5206, 15 Parvis Descartes, FR-69007 Lyon (France).
E-mail: rachel.vanneuville[at]

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