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Going Interdisciplinary in French and US Universities: Organizational Change and University Policies

The University Under Pressure

ISBN: 978-1-78560-831-5, eISBN: 978-1-78560-830-8

ISSN: 0733-558X

Publication date: 5 February 2016


This paper analyses French and US universities’ organizational responses to the more or less explicit pressures they face to go interdisciplinary. Defining universities as pluralistic organizations, I show that the implementation of interdisciplinary research does not result in well-integrated institutional strategies, but rather combines initiatives from the scientific community and from university leaders. Based on case studies conducted on the development of interdisciplinary nanomedicine in five leading French and US research universities, I identify three settings where the implementation of interdisciplinarity involves shifts in organizational structure – in principal investigator-based research teams and scientific networks, in departmental boundaries, and in institutional structures, and question issues of governance, leadership and resource allocation arising from those shifts. We see similarities between the two countries in terms of how initiatives by “entrepreneurial academics” – searching for funds for interdisciplinary research – and by the university leadership – also searching for funds, and redefining institutional projects around interdisciplinarity – complement each other. We also identify one major difference – with French pro-interdisciplinary university policies being strongly influenced by a political impetus from the French ministry of higher education and research.



Louvel, S. (2016), "Going Interdisciplinary in French and US Universities: Organizational Change and University Policies", The University Under Pressure (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 46), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 329-359.



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