new sociology rankings and it’s kind of interesting

Shanghai Jiao Tong University runs an annual ranking of universities called the “Academic Ranking of World Universities.” They rank departments in the following way:

  • Articles in Web of Science
  • A normalized citation score/impact factor
  • International collaboration (i.e., people from different countries in author list)
  • Hits in their definition of “top journals”
  • Awards given to faculty

This all makes sense to me, except the international collaboration score. It’s interesting, but I am not sure why it should be counted toward an estimate of a program’s prestige or output. Maybe it is ARWU’s way to helping out non-Anglophone nations. We could kvetch about the exclusion of books, but ARWU does what it does. At least they are honest about it and I feel pretty good that an organization can scrape Web of Science, while chasing down books is hard to do.

Here is the sociology global top 25, based on their composite score. Sociology programs were not ranked in terms of awards.

soc Rank

Comments in no particular order:

  1. Your school probably got bumped down just due to numbers. Even if we stick just to the Anglophone world, the inclusion of Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Toronto, and others will likely push down your school a few notches.
  2. Bizarrely, IU (my employer) shows that no matter what rank you use – NRC, USNWR, or ARWU – it loves hovering in that 11-13 zone. I’ve seen it as low #18 in some survers, like NRC 2010.
  3. My alma mater: Chicago – rank 20! This may shock some folks, but it is not a surprise to disciplinary insiders. A lot of star faculty left in the late 1990s and 2000s and these people were running big projects or were younger people who would go on to do big things at other places. The young folks at Chicago are A+ but they haven’t quite reached the age where they are helming massive projects that generate avalanches of publications (a la Laumann circa 1995 or Bob Sampson 2004).
  4. Aside from Chicago, Princeton is the other weird one. It makes sense that Princeton would be top 20 in the world, but they are usually considered the top of the heap in the US. If you look at the individual scores, you see they do really badly in “PUB” but have insanely high impact – “CNCI.” Makes sense since they have multiple star faculty who write occasionally, rather than in a stream like a demographer.
  5. The nice thing about this ranking is that aside from including international collaboration, there seems to be little weird about it. The NRC 2010 ranking was a huge failure in that it produced some utterly weird and bizarre outputs, like making Delaware a top 20 program (no offense!). Simply by counting cites and pubs, you get something that actually makes sense to insiders and the inputs have an internal logic.
  6. Finally, it is interesting to see that even with international collaboration, top non-US schools are Anglophone, except Amsterdam. It is a really interesting question why sociology has become so concentrated in Anglophone nations, while other fields have prominent non-Anglo schools. For example, in math, the top 25 includes Paris, Kyoto and the Hebrew University.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 15, 2019 at 12:09 am

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  1. Okay, so I know very little about the inside baseball of sociology rankings… but I do have an insight to add about #6 (the sociology vs. math question)… from the explanations I’ve seen in social science vs. STEM one potential answer is that empirical and modeling work (like math proofs) can be described in formulas that are a universal language whereas more conceptual contributions are much harder to achieve in English language journals for anyone for whom English is a non-native language. That is, there’s so much tacit subtlety in language usage, it is hard to compete against native speakers/writers.


  2. Steven is right. Sociology is not “concentrated in Anglophone nations”. The measurements favour Anglophone nations. To state it more starkly: The measurements prop up the hegemony of Anglo-American sociology. Additionally to what Steven points out: Many sociologists who are not native English speakers prefer to publish in their native language. Publications not in English are very often not even in the Web of science. Publications not in English have fewer citations and lower impact factors, because their audience is (much) smaller (think about the impact factor of a Hungarian or Korean or Italian sociology journal). How many English sociologists have ever published anything in another language? If a criterion would be in how many languages authors have published, then the tables would be reversed. Neither of this has anything to do with quality.
    One key reason why Amsterdam is high up in the tables (and not a French or German or Spanish University) is because in the Netherlands sociology has mostly abandoned the native language and the others have not.
    But it is not just about language, it is also about topic. Try to publish a case study of gentrification in Wrozlaw or voting patterns in Poland in an American journal. Whatever it’s quality, the reviewers will say: “It needs more context”, and you will end up spending 50% of the words available to explain to Americans basic information about Polish politics and Wrozlaw’s urban makeup that everyone knows. Then the reviewers will say, the article is thin and not relevant to an “international” audience, by which they mean themselves. This never ever happens to the most parochial study of American this or American that. Look at the ToC of any of the large American journals and think for yourself: Would you be interested in this article, and would you understand it, if you replaced all American placemarkers with Polish or Korean or Ugandan ones? If you were the reviewer of the article, what would you say?
    Worse, the very existence of these measurements has bad repercussions for sociology itself. Because scholars from all countries try to get published in top “international” (read: American) journals, they stop doing research that is locally relevant, because it cannot get published in “international” journals and they stop publishing in their native language, because of low impact factors.
    Recommended reading: Aalbers, Manuel. B. ‘Creative Destruction through the Anglo-American Hegemony: A Non-Anglo-American View on Publications, Referees and Language’. Area 36 (2004): 319–32.

    Liked by 1 person


    July 15, 2019 at 10:15 am

  3. I agree with rupilo above. This ranking basically reflects the way that the highest ranked journals are all American, and publish a great deal of parochial content that would never get published (given the quality of data) if they didn’t happen to appeal to the interests of US based editorial boards. Thinking for the moment about quantitative studies of social stratification (something which takes up a lot of space in ASR, AJS ect.), the kind of data available for these studies in the US are terrible in terms of coverage, measurement quality, availability of contextual data ect. compared to any country with a population register e.g. Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands. Likewise, if article acceptance was premised upon the study of places where social problems are especially stark then why aren’t there more studies of economic inequality in Brazil, Russia, or Mexico? Why aren’t there more studies of discrimination against Roma populations in Eastern Europe, or racial inequality in South Africa?



    July 15, 2019 at 11:57 am

  4. On point #6: Mathematicians speak their own language (i.e. Math). This shows that language barrier is absolutely an issue when it comes to disciplines that rely on natural languages, e.g. sociology.



    July 15, 2019 at 5:18 pm

  5. Social science is an international enterprise. if you don’t publish in English you won’t be part of that enterprise, it’s up to you, but don’t whine about “Anglo-American hegemony”.Dutch sociologists publish a lot in English speaking journals using data from the Netherlands, same thing with Swedish sociologists, how do you think Stockholm U ends up as high as #30. If you have nothing to contribute but descriptions of gentrification in Wrozlaw or voting patterns in Poland you aren’t really making a meaningful sociological contribution that anyone has reason to care about. The poverty of your arguments is demonstrated by your ignorance of the fact that a lot of social scientific research is being published in US-based journals using data from Uganda. And there is a huge literature on racial inequality in Brazil etc etc



    July 16, 2019 at 12:07 am

  6. I do not whine. I am trying to explain why so few Departments in non-Anglo Universities are high up on the Shanghai rankings, and my explanation is that this is not because of a lack of quality, which is what the rankings purport to measure. I am puzzled why sociologists fail to be sociological whenever they look at their own discipline. Reading in the sociology of valuation will suggest that measurements of quality are accomplishments of groups of practice, rather than something that can be objectively read from products. Thus we need to look at the social processes that lead to these judgments.

    You are right about the fact that if you do not publish in English, then you are not part of the English speaking (not “international”) enterprise. But being part of that enterprise has nothing to do with quality, it just measures how well you are integrated in that enterprise. Do you really believe that Baylor University (at nr. 50-75) is better than Sciences Po in Paris (at 75-100)? Purdue at 35 and Humboldt Berlin at 101-150? It is likely that French, Spanish and German academic system is large enough that they can afford to keep their own research and publication practices, which makes them less visible to the English world and therefore the Shanghai rankings. Further, important books are translated into English, which gives them exposure, without the need to switch to English writing. Translated books however successful, will not make a department rise the Shanghai ranking, because it excludes books.

    To say that there is a hegemony of American sociology, does not preclude that select outsiders learn the logic of that hegemony and work their way up. Stockholm ends up being on nr. 30 for exactly the reasons described: Swedish social science has mostly shifted to writing in English, and adapting to English publication logics, because it is too small to keep its own publication world.

    Why publishing about gentrification in Wrozlaw should be a “less meaningful sociological contribution” than writing about gentrification in say Austin, Texas eludes me (and, yes, American journals are full of such articles). Your claim is precisely proof of the argument that the Wrozlaw article is less likely to get published in an American journal, if people like you are the reviewers.

    Sociological significance has nothing to do with topic. If it had (in a social problems logic), as DMCa points out above, then journals would look rather different. That there is “a lot” or “huge” literature on Uganda or Brazil does not preclude an analysis which will show that an article on Brazil or Uganda written by a scholar from Brazil or Uganda is much less likely to be accepted by an American journal than an article on US issues.
    (for the record: the ASR (2004-19) has exactly zero articles on Uganda, with 21 mentioning it or including it in multi-country studies, and 2/59 on Brazil). As pointed out in the first post, this is not only about topics, but about citations, writing styles, ways of making arguments and so on.

    I am not complaining about the fact that English is the international language for scientific exchange. It has some advantage to have a shared language for scientific exchange. But to claim that this has no effect on the outcome of rankings is sociologically naive. Rather sooner than later, when China takes over, the native English speakers will experience how it feels to need to write in a foreign language and with another hierarchy of science imposed.
    (BTW, I very much benefit from how the system works, but this does not prevent me from analyzing its nefarious effects.)

    Liked by 1 person


    July 16, 2019 at 12:19 pm

  7. […] ecology programs? Are you surprised how highly many European universities rank (contrast the very US-dominated sociology rankings)? Perhaps more importantly, do you even have a mental ranking of the world’s […]


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