chapter  4
17 Pages

Governing Disciplines: Reform and Placation in the Austrian University System

ByCLAUDIA MEISTER-SCHEYTT AND ALAN SCOTT

The principle of equality and the principle of hierarchy are facts, indeed they are among the most constraining facts, of political and social life.

(Dumont, 1970: 3)

The above quotation from Louis Dumont’s influential anthropology of the Indian caste system, Homo Hierarchicus (first published in French in 1966), provides the initial premise from which this analysis of the nature of recent reforms within a continental European higher education system commences. For Dumont, the principles of equality and hierarchy are “social facts” in Durkheim’s sense; that is to say, they exist beyond the preferences and choices of individual actors, and in part form those preferences and constrain those choices. We should note straight away that for Dumont – as for Durkheim – a social fact is every bit as “real” as a physical one. Furthermore, Dumont’s assertion also implies that (a) equality and hierarchy are systems of beliefs and practices – i.e. consistent and coherent across a wide range of actions, issues, dispositions and opinions, and (b) these two systems are mutually exclusive – i.e. they create different worlds of cultural practice, opinion and cognition.