Academic Tribes and Territories: over two decades of theorising academic cultures

Research impact story

The first edition of Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines was published in 1989. Researched and written by Tony Becher, it was “greeted by academics as a landmark book” (Hughes, 2013, 262).

The second edition, by Becher and Trowler (2001) put a new emphasis on academic practices other than research, especially on learning and teaching. It also highlighted gender issues and discussed the significance of managerialism and the diversity of institutions.

The third edition was a collection edited by three academics – Paul Trowler, Murray Saunders and Veronica Bamber (a graduate of the Department’s Doctoral Programme in Educational Research). Taking a ‘practice turn’, it shifted the theoretical framework of the Tribes and Territories thesis in the direction of social practice theory, concentrating on recurrent practices in different settings, and stressing the importance of context in understanding academic cultures across the disciplines.

The second edition has over 3,500 citations and is the 8th most referenced book in the field (Tai et al, 2013).

As Mark Hughes says in reviewing the whole genre:“The tribes and territories thesis ...has made a significant contribution to education studies in mapping ontological, epistemological and methodological shifts within education studies over 23 years” (Hughes, 2013, 261).

Paul Trowler continues to develop the Tribes and Territories thesis, currently considering the implications of a practice approach for conceptualising disciplines in general and particular, and the implications of this for change practices (for example, Trowler, 2013).


Becher, T. and Trowler, P. (2001). Academic Tribes and Territories: intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines (2nd edition). Buckingham: Open University Press/SRHE.

Becher, T. (1989). Academic Tribes and Territories: intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines. Buckingham: Open University Press/SRHE.

Hughes, M. (2013). Book review essay: the territorial nature of organization studies. Culture and Organization, 19(3), 261-274. (A review of the three editions of the Academic Tribes and Territories genre).

Tai, C-H., Lee, C-W. and Lee, Y. (2013). Citation Analysis of Higher Education Texts in Selected Databases: A Comparison between 2002-2006 and 2007-2011. International Journal of Engineering and Technology, 5(2), 306-310.

Trowler, P. (2013). Depicting and Researching Disciplines: Strong and moderate essentialist approaches.  Studies in Higher Education. DOI:10.1080/03075079.2013.801431

Trowler, P., Saunders, M. and Bamber, R. (eds) (2012). Tribes and territories in the 21st-century: Rethinking the significance of disciplines in higher education. London: Routledge.