The Changing Ecology of Higher Education in the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter uri icon


  • Higher education as a specialized sector has deep historical roots and provides an enveloping context for all colleges. Colleges have no choice but to participate in the wider field of higher education since vari ous players in this field train its employees, set standards for their work, and provide guidance and governance of its activities. For many years, the field of higher education operated in a manner somewhat insulated from wider societal forces, although po liti cal interests and economic pressures have always exercised some influence . The latter have become stronger in recent de cades, but entities within higher education continue to exercise substantial strength. We employ an organ ization field perspective to guide our discussion of this arena. An Organ ization Field Perspective The concept of organ ization field can be employed in multiple ways, of which we will emphasize two. The first was introduced by DiMaggio and Powell (1983: 48), who define it as those organ izations that, in the aggregate, constitute a recognized area of institutional life: key suppliers, resource and product consumers, regulatory agencies, and other organ izations that produce similar goods and ser vices. Like the concept of industry, organ ization fields are often constructed around focal populations of provider organ izationsin our case, colleges but unlike the industry framing, organ ization fields are expanded to include other types of organ izations involved in providing critical resources, ser vices, or controls. The approach we employ combines the insights of institutional and ecological theory to highlight the importance of both symbolic and material resources in structuring social life. A second definition 2 The Changing Ecol ogy of Higher Education in the San Francisco Bay Area W. RICHARD SCOTT, BRIAN HOLZMAN, ETHAN RIS, AND MANUELITO BIAG The Changing Ecology of Higher Education 17 of organ ization field, emphasizing a regional focus, will guide our discussion in chapter three. Martin (2011) reminds us that the concept of field had its origins in work conducted in the nineteenth century in electromagnetism and fluid mechanics and later in German gestalt theory in psy chol ogy, which emphasized that much of the be hav ior of an object or social entity is determined more by forces or influences operating in its environment than by its internal characteristics. Prominent approaches to organ ization fields place emphasis on relational or network systems social structures involving the linkages and flows connecting organ izations to similar or dif fer ent organ izations (DiMaggio and Powell 1983). But some approaches borrow from Bourdieus (1971) work on cultural structures affecting social relations to stress the importance of symbolic pro cesses that create common meaning systems and rule-and norm- based frameworks (Meyer and Rowan 1977; Meyer and Scott 1983). Together, these relational and symbolic frameworks account for much of the orderliness and coherence of social life (Scott 2014: chap. 8). While external forces and controls should not be overlooked, more recent scholars have challenged the view that organ izations are merely passive pawns in the face of environmental constraints. They point out that actors occupy dif fer ent locations in social fields and that they bring varying resources and capacities to bear in seeking to protect their turf and interests. They also emphasize that while fields share some common meanings and relational structures , they also harbor competition and conflict, so that ideas conflict and interests diverge. In this altered version, actors are not simply blindly following scripts or conforming to pressures but are, to a variable extent, agents capable of in de pen dent, self- directed action (Fligstein and McAdam 2012; Lawrence , Suddaby, and Leca 2009). In our case, colleges are subjected to strong external pressures from regulatory bodies and shared normative frameworks, but they are also constituted to be in de pen dent agents who are expected to strategically pursue their interests. Many fields are not settled but, rather, are contested terrains. Actors within fields compete for vari ous types of capital: physical (e.g., property, monetary resources), social (e.g., friendship networks, alliances), and cultural (e.g., expertise , taste) (Bourdieu 1977). Within higher education, for example, competition until recently was based on prestige and cultural standing, but, as we will observe, over time it has come to be more about scarce resources and ways 18 Scott, Holzman, Ris, and Biag to increase drawing power. Within a field, pressures for conformity or change flow in multiple directions: down from broader cultural frames and social dominance frameworks, laterally from exchange and competition pro cesses, and...

author list (cited authors)

  • Scott, W. R., Holzman, B., Ris, E., & Biag, M.

complete list of authors

  • Scott, WR||Holzman, B||Ris, E||Biag, M

editor list (cited editors)

  • Scott, W. R., & Kirst, M. W.

Book Title

  • Higher Education and Silicon Valley: Connected But Conflicted

publication date

  • January 2017