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Science as a Vocation (2023 supplementary topic)

A core issue in the ongoing UK industrial action at universities is the conditions of scientific labour and careers. This supplementary unit connects an important historical essay on this topic, Max Weber's “Science as a Vocation” to contemporary issues in scientific work and their histories.


  1. Find out about your instructors’ career pathways. What kind of training is required to teach in your degree programme? How long does it take? How is postgraduate and other required training typically financed (including costs of living)? Does building a career in your field seem to require moving cities (or countries) frequently? Are there differences in pathways between your older and younger instructors? You can often find out about career pathways from instructors’ university or personal websites, but note as well what kinds of information are harder to find.
  2. There are many categories of workers at this university involved in your instruction. Learn about these different categories, including different academic ranks and job titles, and their working conditions. What proportion of the people involved in your instruction are on permanent contracts?
  3. Go to a picket line on a strike day near to where you typically have classes and talk to the picketers. What motivated them to work at the university? What would their ideal university involve? What are their reasons for striking?

Reading Guide

Many readings for this course include material about universities and labour in the history of science. Pay attention to these in your textbooks and see if you can identify some examples in your notes and prior (and future) readings.

In addition, read Max Weber’s essay “Science as a Vocation” in the resource list as well as three articles responding to the essay, putting it in historical context and connecting it to present-day issues in science and universities. A longer book by one of these authors also in the resource list can be a good gateway to exploring even further.


A. Identify and discuss a historical theme from Weber’s essay and the responses to it in the Resource List. Make clear in your response how the theme relates to historical interpretations that connect past science synchronically or diachronically to its contexts.

B. Identify and discuss an aspect of universities, science, and academic labour from one or more readings for other units in the Resource List and interpret this in light of Weber’s essay and the responses to it.

intro/vocation.txt · Last modified: 2023/12/17 10:54 by mjb