Is there a (text)book on how academia or science works? What I'm looking for is not anecdotes and tips, but actual insights presented systematically, like any textbooks in every disciplines. This book should provide connections between varieties in academia, and how the root of seeking new knowledge shaping the varieties as they are now. I think this can be categorized as an application of sociology.

Some questions I want to know:

  • How does a new theory spreads out and be accepted?

  • Can it answer everything?

  • How do governments fund researches?

  • [to be added]

Meta discussion: How to make the question asking for books on academia/science not a shopping list?

  • 4
    I'd find it difficult to write a book on something that varies more than you think it does ;-) When I was a 15-year old kid, I enjoyed P. B. Medawar, Advice to a young scientist, but nowadays I'd consider it a bit outdated.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Nov 1 '17 at 19:34
  • 3
    Academia (and 'science') is a human organization, subject to all the advantages and frailties of humans.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 1 '17 at 19:42
  • 5
    How science works, and how academia works, aren't exactly the same thing. I heard an interview on Fresh Air once about college campuses' race to build more and more campus buildings. That doesn't have anything to do with science, directly. Nov 4 '17 at 4:33
  • 2
    Science and academia are two distinct and very different things. Pick one for the question.
    – Greg
    Nov 4 '17 at 18:02
  • 13
    Sometimes I’m tempted to suggest Kafka’s The Trial.
    – JeffE
    Nov 4 '17 at 18:47

The study of the higher education and academia is a huge area of research, and I must admit, I am no expert in it. While some publications are opinion-based, as Massimo Ortolano notes in his comment, there is a growing number of research-based works on academia developed within different disciplinary frameworks, which includes those developed within the framework of academic sociology, as you mention in your question.

Among the trailblazing works in the sociology of academia were the publications by R. K. Merton, and also R. Whitley, The Intellectual and Social Organization of the Sciences (1984), and P. Bourdieu, Homo Academicus (1984), focusing on French academia.

Among the recent notable books in this field, I can cite M. Lamont, How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment (2010), based on a study of US grant peer review panels, and J. R. Posselt, Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping (2016), based on participant observations about a number of graduate admission committees at US universities. Tracing the differences between the branches (varieties) of academia and explaining them is a major theme in both these books. But there are many more.


Thanks @greenb for your link to Merton, I found a good pointer to everything about science itself: Science studies. One of the introductory books I found is David J. Hess, Science Studies: An Advanced Introduction. Here is its introduction:

Science Studies is the first comprehensive survey of the field, combining a concise overview of key concepts with an original and integrated framework. In the process of bringing disparate fields together under one tent, David J. Hess realizes the full promise of science studies, long uncomfortably squeezed into traditional disciplines. He provides a clear discussion of the issues and misunderstandings that have arisen in these interdisciplinary conversations. His survey is up-to-date and includes recent developments in philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, cultural studies, and feminist studies.

By moving from the discipline-bound blinders of a sociology, history, philosophy, or anthropology of science to a transdisciplinary field, science studies, Hess argues, will be able to provide crucial conceptual tools for public discussions about the role of science and technology in a democratic society.

  • Glad you got unstuck. I haven't read it but Wikipedia has an article on "sociology of scientific knowledge." Nov 4 '17 at 12:02
  • 1
    So this is mainly about science, and not academia as a whole. I imagine academics in the department of English differ substantially from academics in the department of Chemistry.
    – GEdgar
    Nov 4 '17 at 13:46
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    For science you may also find the fields of "philosophy of science" and "history of science" interesting. Kuhn's classic book "The structure of scientific revolutions" is very readable and can tell you quite a bit about how new theories spread out.
    – Anyon
    Jun 14 '18 at 4:03

Take a look at Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering

The book is focused on STEM professors, but most of the research and advice is probably cross-discipline. It's probably the best book about what you're in for as a graduate student, postdoc, and tenure-track professor.


Not really a book, but as a start one can visit the Category:Academia in Wikipedia, trace through the links they are interested, and look at the references if necessary.

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