HUM Seed project: The Nobel prize and its stories. A mixed-methods study on narratives of and structural indicators for scholarly excellence

Project: Research

Project Details


Recent changes in the academic field are being subjected to heated debate. Stakeholders are in disagreement as to the “right” framework for producing excellent scholarly work. University governance, faculty, students, and employers propose diverging narratives of what constitutes a valuable environment for scholarly work.
Whilst, on the one hand, critical voices are capable of pointing to what an excellence-building environment is not (Boer, Enders, & Schimank, 2007; Diefenbach, 2009; Hirsch & Weber, 2001; Hüther & Krücken, 2013; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004), there is, on the other hand, only little research on how outstanding scientific careers trajectories, are interrelated with sociostructural, institutional, and individual variables (Bühlmann, Rossier, & Benz, 2018; Graf, 2015, 2017; Zuckerman, 1977). Scientific excellence is considered, here, to denote a co-constructive process possibly influenced by individual options, by hierarchy and stratification in the scholarly field, and by organizational (power) structures. Consequently, we investigate the interconnectedness of structural conditions and personal memories / narratives. By looking closely at career trajectories of Nobel laureates (from here: NL), the analysis provides insights into these processes of excellence construction. Our focus is on detecting specific configurations between within-field structure and individual action, possibly moderated via habitual dispositions (Bourdieu, 1988, 1998).
We propose to conduct a longitudinal study of NL trajectories (full worldwide sample, 1980-2018; n = 348) with a special focus on personal, institutional and organization-related aspects. In order to analyze interrelations, we combine quantitative and qualitative data analysis. Descriptive statistical analysis of NL CVs will detect characteristics and specific career patterns, in particular those related to organizational settings: this yielding information on specific field structures. Qualitative analysis of autobiographical notes reveals subjective narratives of the NL. The reconstructive analysis of these narratives, matched with qualitative data, reveals how the specific field structure is perceived and internalized and how it translates into an individual “space of possibilities” (Bourdieu, 1993). Thus, multi-layer analysis may identify main and side effects, as well as optional and immutable conditions of successful academic careers. The observed time period enables us to reconstruct structural as well as institutional changes over time and to extract effects on career patterns and habitual dispositions. Our analysis will connect variables derived from observing organizational, and sociopolitical change processes to NL narratives.
CV data will be analyzed a) over time, b) with regard to socio-demographical data, c) with regard to the disciplinary affiliation, d) considering educational and professional aspects (organizations, degrees, mobility, etc.) (for analogous data evaluation design see Graf 2015). Against the background of quantitative findings, NL autobiographies will be thematically and contextually analyzed and matched to/compared with quantitative data. Mixed methods application allows for comparison of structural conditions and success factors as perceived by NLs. This will provide deep insights into what impacts on successful scholarly work generally deemed “excellent”.
Short titleThe Nobel prize and its stories
Effective start/end date01/02/202007/10/2020


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  • Nobel Laureates life stories

    Lueg, K. & Graf, A., 2020.

    Research output: Contribution to conference without publisher/journalConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review