Reviewed by: Isabeau Iqbal, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Educational Studies and Educational Developer, Centre for Teaching Learning and Technology, University of British Columbia
How Professors Think is a book about the work of committees who conduct peer reviews of fellowships and research grants. The book is based on an empirical study of multi-disciplinary social science and humanities competitions in the United States. As part of her research, Lamont conducted interviews with panelists, program officers and chairpersons and she also observed three panels. In her study, Lamont, who describes herself as a “sociologist of knowledge” seeks to examine “how the worth of academic work is ascertained” (3).
Because this book doesn’t scream “educational development,” I feel compelled to explain that I was drawn to this book for one specific reason: to see if Lamont presents ideas that might coincide with, and help me better understand, the summative peer review of teaching. The short answer is that she does but, admittedly, there is limited overlap between how multidisciplinary panels go about assessing research and how departmental colleagues evaluate teaching for tenure and promotion. So, in order to get the most from this book and then be able to apply it to the peer review of teaching, one needs to have a fairly solid sociological background or be prepared to do much follow-up reading.
Nevertheless, there are ideas in this book that would be of interest to educational developers who wish to deepen their understanding of academic culture. Namely, Lamont refers extensively to a body of literature on “evaluative cultures” (a new term to me) and, in doing so, provides illuminating information on how academics from different disciplines approach evaluation.
Given that peer review is a central aspect of academia, this book is relevant to educational developers who want to expand their knowledge of the context within which they work. However, for the educational developer seeking a more straightforward introduction to academic culture than that provided in Lamont’s somewhat complex book, I would suggest: