The logic of knowledge production: Power structures and symbolic divisions in the elite field of American sociology

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With its highly visible “academic elite”, the US is regarded as a worldwide center of knowledge production. In this context, we reveal the structure of US American elite sociology to find the social conditions of intellectual production and its external influences. Using specific Multiple Correspondence Analysis along with combinatorial inference, we aim to identify the fundamental power structures and the distribution of sociological capital. Crucially, we present the complex relationships between these structures and the topic choices, methodological orientations and research practices of the 250 most visible US sociologists. The reconstructed space is multidimensional: firstly, it is divided along a “dominant” and “dominated” pole, secondly, along a “pure” scientific versus an institutional power pole. The first division goes hand in hand with the hierarchy of sociological topics, and the second accounts for capital accumulation practices and the choice of methodology. While institutional and economic power is deeply nationally embedded and associated with quantitative methodology, “pure” scientific power goes with an international orientation and a qualitative, more “humanistic” approach. Simultaneously, these oppositions reflect degrees of autonomy. Whereas the “pure” scientific pole is more autonomous, as it is defined by internal field criteria to a larger extent, the institutional power pole is more heteronomous by receiving grants from State institutions. This partially determines the field's heteronomy towards the bureaucratic field, paradoxically protecting, to some extent, against the logic of the economic market.




Warczok, T., & Beyer, S. (2021). The logic of knowledge production: Power structures and symbolic divisions in the elite field of American sociology. Poetics, 87.

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