Leslie Santee Siskin


Professor Siskin is a Visiting Fellow at CRASSH in 2019-20.

My project for the coming year advances my exploration of the interrelations of knowledge and organizational structures by examining the phenomenon of “Refraction Across the Disciplines.”  The concept of refraction in the social sciences describes the process by which reforms and policies that pass through the facets of institutional or sub-group structures can change direction as they are mediated by a particular set of conditions and practices.  As a result of these refractions, for example, a policy intended to produce a specific and uniform effect is often received, implemented, and experienced as something different—something filtered, framed, or bent in distinctive ways. Understanding patterns of refraction can explain why so many initiatives in education fail to produce or produce unintended results.  In this project, I use refraction to understand what happens when new digital technologies pass through the facets of disciplinarity.  The preliminary data come from a four-year study of the effects of introducing online/blended learning in 35 schools across the U.S. There we observed how subject matter differences played a major role in shaping the outcomes of this initiative, radically altering the shape and effectiveness of technological change. While in Cambridge I want to scale up from the school to the university.  Can we explain those subject matter differences as disciplinary differences? What is the relationship between the digital and the disciplinary?


Leslie Santee Siskin, a Research Professor at New York University, is a sociologist whose work focuses on the organization of knowledge and the organization of schools. An expert on the American high school, she has studied departmental structures, the contexts of restructuring efforts and comprehensive school reform, issues of accountability, and most recently the introduction and implementation of online/blended learning. In a series of books and articles she has explored teachers’ work in high schools and subject departments (Realms of Knowledge, Falmer Press), the possibility of alternative configurations (The Subjects in Question, Teachers College Press), and the pressures of high-stakes testing (The New Accountability, Routledge).   Before joining NYU in 2005, she was a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Hofstra University, a Fellow at the University of Cambridge and at Columbia University, and a high school teacher, administrator, and school board trustee.  She earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University.


Visiting Fellow 2019-20


September 2019 - July 2020