"The maintenance of social boundaries: Multidisciplinarity and performance penalties in academic disciplines » paper in progress co-authored with M. Perkmann (Imperial College London), and R. Fini and L. Toschi (Bologna U.)"
Recent scholarship often claims that candidates lacking a clear identity suffer from a valuation penalty because evaluators are concerned they lack the capabilities required for the job. We argue, in contrast, that unfocused candidates may be penalized for another reason: they threaten established social boundaries. This happens in specific contexts where evaluators act as gatekeepers on behalf of a social entity such as disciplines or professions. We test how the penalty applied to unfocused candidates varies in a nationwide academic accreditation process, a setting where evaluators have a clear gatekeeping mandate and where candidates’ capabilities are observable. Using data on the 2012 national scientific qualification in Italian academia, we show that, despite the availability of performance information, the valuation penalty applied to academic candidates with an unfocused (multidisciplinary) profile not only prevailed but increased for candidates with the best performance record. High-performing multidisciplinary candidates suffered the greatest penalty in small and distinctive academic disciplines and when accreditors were highly typical members of their discipline. Our theory and findings suggest that the specialist advantage may not only be driven by capability considerations, as typically argued in the literature, but also by attempts to maintain social boundaries.
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