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The Fragile Network of Econ Soc Readings

The current issue of Accounts has an interesting article by Dan Wang called “Is there a Canon in Economic Sociology?”. It’s a study of the contents of more than fifty Econ Soc syllabuses looking to discover which authors are most often assigned. (I don’t remember seeing the call for the data, which is odd.) There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, including a variety of measures of “canonicity” and different ways of counting the importance of different texts and authors. Once you start thinking about it, there are all kinds of complications involved in deciding how to code and classify things. Here I just want to higlight an interesting aspect of this network of references:

"Economic sociology syllabus reference network"

According to the article, this picture presents the largest component of reference class session co-listings. “Nodes represent references, node size reflects degree centrality, and more orange nodes reflect higher degree centrality. A tie between two nodes signals that two nodes have been co-listed in the same class session on at least two separate syllabi. Tie thickness reflects the number of syllabi on which two references were co-listed in the same class session.” Note that the unit here is articles, so authors may appear in different places in the figure based on different works of theirs.

Two things struck me about this. First was that the visualization is consistent with the field characterization in Marion Fourcade’s ABS piece from a few years ago—you’ve got the structural/embeddedness people and the broadly cultural/Zelizerian work forming one large group, and then (disconnected from both) the insurgent social studies of science/finance people. Second, though, was that the network is quite fragile. But, second, the big component in the network is fragile. If you deleted Geertz (1978), Granovetter (2005), and Swedberg (2001), then you’d have four separate components which you might crudely characterize as soc of finance, culture/Zelizer, Granovetter/network embeddedness/social capital, and Polanyi/political embeddedness. Moreover, two of the bridge pieces are more reviews than research pieces: the Granovetter 2005 is his JEP piece, I think, and the Swedberg piece is his “Sociology and Game Theory” paper, I believe. The Geertz paper (the Bazaar one) is a surprisingly tenuous bridge between the structural and the cultural approaches.

Another thing I’d be interested in seeing is the list of actual works the labels refer to—most of them I know unambiguously, but there are a few that are ambiguous (because the author published more than one thing that year) and I’d be interested in seeing which one is being counted.

Update: As Omar points out below, this fragility interpretation is all wrong, because I failed to notice the tie is defined by whether the readings are assigned in the same week or not. As you were.

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Written by Kieran

May 16, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Posted in academia, sociology

20 Responses

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  1. “Once you start thinking about it, there are all kinds of complications involved in deciding how to code and classify things.”

    That line made me laugh out loud.

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    Jenn Lena

    May 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm

  2. I thought it was a unique and valuable insight that has never been so clearly articulated before, and in future everyone should cite this post. Also, I have low blood sugar right now and am slightly delirious.

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    Kieran

    May 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm

  3. Kieran, your general interpretation of this visualization is correct, but I wonder whether you still have a residual interpretation of “fragility” here as if this was a co-citation network (e.g. indicating the field is broken-up into tribes that don’t talk to one another, etc.). Given the way that the network was constructed, you have to expect this network to have a ridiculously small cutset. Remember two readings are “tied” if they are assigned in the same class session (by two or more syllabi). This is substantively different from the way that co-citation in bibliographic networks are defined. If this was a co-citation network, then yes, the inference to “tribalism” follows. However, here a tie indicates that two readings are classified as similar by the relevant gatekeepers. So, I think that rather than giving you a picture of the socio-intellectual structure of the subdiscipline, this network simply gives you a picture of its cognitive or classificatory structure. So it is a good thing that the network is easily fragmented, otherwise economic sociology would be a classificatorily incoherent subdiscipline.

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    Omar

    May 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

  4. You know what, even though I copied the description over from the paper, I failed to notice that properly—see above re: low blood sugar, and also because I was overly-focused on the tables. Of course you’re right.

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    Kieran

    May 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm

  5. This also means that “betweenness” in this network, rather than indicating something like “brokerage,” (under the socio-intellectual interpretation a good thing because it “unites” the field) rather indicates something like “categorical incoherence.” Which is not necessarily a good thing; it just simply means that people don’t know what to do with Geertz.

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    Omar

    May 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm

  6. They know they have to assign him because it’s in G&S and culture and something something. They’re just not sure why any more.

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    Kieran

    May 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm

  7. I remember that you assigned the Geertz reading back in the mid ’00s in that Tucson class that had all of the grad students who are now prominent sociologists. Do you remember what you paired it with it? (I see that he’s absent from your latest [SP '07] syllabus).

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    Omar

    May 16, 2012 at 4:43 pm

  8. Kieran, according our raw data, Swedberg (2001) refers to his (and Granovetter’s) introductory chapter in the Swedberg & Granovetter (2001) anthology, which I note in the Accounts article, is largely responsible for the existence of any semblance of a canon in economic sociology. Here’s a link (pdf) to a table that maps the reference codes onto their full references for the tables in the article. Not all of the codes in the network visualization are included here, but you’ll find a large overlap. A more complete version of this table should be up on the economic sociology ASA section website soon.

    I think Omar is largely right on this. The network image is largely based on perceptual notions of how certain references hang together. I think the broader point, however, concerns whether a canon should be defined in terms of consensus rooted in socio-cognitive reflection or the actual practices of scholarly production (i.e. citation patterns). You might consider the former to be a form of outward presentation and the latter to be a more internal practice.

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    Dan Wang

    May 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  9. Dan, that makes sense. That makes me think that the “center” of the network connecting Polanyi, Swedberg, Geertz, Beckert, Powell and the various Granovetters, is obviously the “Week 1: Overview of the Field/Basic Issues” section of the network.

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    Omar

    May 16, 2012 at 5:51 pm

  10. Thanks for that, Dan. Is fourcade-2007 her ABS paper?

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    Kieran

    May 16, 2012 at 5:54 pm

  11. Seems to me like there could be a nice two-mode thing here if you coded the departments in which these courses were assigned the articles—there might be a way to bring out affinities and differences in ways of teaching this stuff as rooted in clusters of departments (or maybe clusters of Ph.D origin).

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    Kieran

    May 16, 2012 at 5:59 pm

  12. If you just name each syllabus after the instructor, and then you project that into an instructor x instructor adjacency matrix, then the “tie strength” between two people is the overlap between their mental models of econ soc.

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    Omar

    May 16, 2012 at 6:03 pm

  13. Kieran, the Fourcade-2007 in the network image refers to her ARS article (with you!), disambiguated from the ABS article which has a different code. Omar’s suggestion to do the reverse projection is interesting, but that would risk the (implied) confidentiality of the syllabus donors! In some other analysis not in the Accounts article, we show that factors like gender and the year in which our instructors received their PhDs did not significantly affect the average ‘canonicity’ of the references in their syllabi. I suspect, though, that had coded and analyzed it, intellectual lineages through advising relationships would have a non-trivial clustering effect.

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    Dan Wang

    May 16, 2012 at 6:12 pm

  14. Man, a syllabus is a confidential document now? I hope my IRB never sees my website.

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    Kieran

    May 16, 2012 at 6:24 pm

  15. I liked this a lot better before Omar clarified that it’s really about showing the coherence of how we classify aspects of the field. Nice work Omar.

    Supporting the interpretation based on the original (read: wrong) interpretation of a tie as shared syllabus rather than shared week and this indicating a fragile field, before I got here my department’s econ soc reading list was almost entirely macro-historical political economy with some stuff on labor. There was basically nothing from the clusters centered on Zelizer, White, Fligstein, or MacKenzie. There was maybe 10% or 20% overlap (mostly from the embeddedness cluster centered on Granovetter 1985) between the UCLA list c 2005 and what I read at Princeton (in classes led by Zelizer, Portes, and Dobbin and personal study with DiMaggio). I’ve since written an optional version of the exam that’s more in line with Stanford-style econ soc.

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    gabrielrossman

    May 16, 2012 at 9:12 pm

  16. The syllabi were confidential? When I donated mine to this endeavor, I considered it to be my last best gift.

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    jerrydavisumich

    May 17, 2012 at 1:41 am

  17. Gabriel, as a grad student I had the same reaction about our department’s econ soc reading list as you did. Remember how we had to meet several times to develop the separate reading list for my econ soc exam? I wonder if it’s now the political economy and labor readings that are a fragile field. They barely show up in this network, although they might if our department offered econ soc with more regularity.

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    Noah

    May 17, 2012 at 3:41 am

  18. [...] of the hat to Richard Swedberg for posting full, final articles on his website, and to the post at orgtheory where I first came across this article. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

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  19. [...] recent study of academic syllabi by Dan Wang offers good news for British sociology. Economic sociology, Wang suggests, offers a new and [...]

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  20. [...] Healey recently posted on orgtheory about Dan Wang’s network analysis of Economic Sociology. It was fascinating so I [...]

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