Schwemmer Wieczorek Methodological Divide

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Schwemmer Wieczorek Methodological Divide
Transcript   Sociology 1  –19© The Author(s) 2019Article reuse guidelines: 10.1177/0038038519853146 The Methodological Divide of Sociology: Evidence from Two Decades of Journal Publications Carsten Schwemmer  University of Bamberg, Germany Oliver Wieczorek  University of Bamberg, Germany Abstract Past research indicates that Sociology is a low-consensus discipline, where different schools of thought have distinct expectations about suitable scientific practices. This division of Sociology into different subfields is to a large extent related to methodology and choices between qualitative or quantitative research methods. Relying on theoretical constructs of the academic prestige economy, boundary demarcation and taste for research, we examine the methodological divide in generalist Sociology journals. Using automated text analysis for 8737 abstracts of articles published between 1995 and 2017, we discover evidence of this divide, but also of an entanglement between methodological choices and different research topics. Moreover, our results suggest a marginally increasing time trend for the publication of quantitative research in generalist journals. We discuss how this consolidation of methodological practices could enforce the entrenchment of different schools of thought, which ultimately reduces the potential for innovative and effective sociological research. Keywords natural language processing, research methodology, scientometrics, sociology of science, sociology of Sociology Corresponding author: Carsten Schwemmer, Chair of Political Sociology, University of Bamberg, Feldkirchenstraße 21, Bamberg, 96052, Germany. Email: SOC 0010.1177/0038038519853146Sociology Schwemmer and Wieczorek  research-article 2019  Article  2  Sociology 00(0) Introduction Despite the landscape of sociological research being in constant flux (Moody and Light, 2006; Oromaner, 2008), long-lasting epistemological demarcations between schools of thought exist and raise the question of how to conduct research properly (Au, 2018; Burawoy, 2005; Byrne, 2012; Münch, 2018; Payne et al., 2004). One of the deepest entrenchments between rival camps is the methodological field (Münch, 2018; Payne et al., 2004; Smelser, 2015). This divide spans predominantly between qualitative and quantitative research methods (Byrne, 2012; Turner, 1998; Williams et al., 2017). One result of this divide is that Sociology is a low-consensus discipline torn between rival camps aligning themselves epistemologically either to the natural sciences or the human-ities (Leahey and Moody, 2014; Puddephatt and McLaughlin, 2015; Turner, 2006; Varga, 2011). At the same time, these camps are located in different domains of the philosophy of science. One is associated with the humanities and aligned to constructivism, logical induction and theory-building in the sense of Berger and Luckmann (1991) or Glaser and Strauss (2017), while another one is related, for example, to positivism, deduction and falsification in Popper’s (2008) sense. These alignments are deeply linked with the way of conducting research, are thus not reflected by the scholars and manifest in the schol-arly discourse held in publication outlets (Moksony et al., 2014; Vanderstraeten, 2010). In turn, this linkage lowers the chances for consensus formation and the successive gen-eration of knowledge in Sociology even further (Boyns and Fletcher, 2005; Burawoy, 2005; Collins, 1989, 1994; Payne et al., 2004; Smelser, 2015; Turner, 2006, 2016; Williams et al., 2017 for an overview on this discussion).These divisions not only resulted in myriad different topics and research pursued, but also in the emergence of epistemologically demarcated schools of thought (e.g. the ‘Chicago School’ and ‘Columbia School’) and dominant research paradigms (Collins, 1994; Kuhn, 1996). These paradigms combine a limited number of theories, methods, epis-temologies and research topics. Paradigms are a focal point for the emergence of research networks and preferences for topics and publication outlets (Moksony et al., 2014; Vanderstraeten, 2010). Paradigmatic alignments also bear the potential of conflict within Sociology and often revolve around nationally embedded epistemic cultures with own approaches drawn from the domain of the philosophy of science. In the United Kingdom, the so-called paradigm wars of the 1980s put a strong emphasis on qualitative methods that are still present today (Bryman, 2008; Gage, 1989). Another example is found in Germany. Here, the so-called ‘Positivismusstreit’ of the 1960s was fought between representatives of the paradigms of critical rationalism and critical theory (Adorno, 1987). The outcome led to a deepening divide between scholars applying qualitative and quantitative methods as well as antagonizing views on theory that still exist today (Münch, 2018).At the same time, the academic publication market and the perceived focus of pub-lication outlets unintentionally enforce the entrenchment between different schools of thought. For instance, journals might signal a focus on educational outcomes and thus attract a disproportionally large number of scholars who are academically socialized within a research paradigm focusing on quantitative methods and specific types of rational choice theory. If the journal publishes a large number of articles that are argu-ably linked to the research paradigm, these scholars are incentivized to focus even  Schwemmer and Wieczorek 3 more on the respective outlet. Since publication outlets provide the main stage for the competition between scholars and paradigms, entrenchments are expected to be most visible in these outlets, especially those said to represent the discipline as a whole (Collins, 1994; Turner, 1998, 2016).For the above-mentioned reasons, this article examines the existence of a methodo-logical divide in generalist Sociology journals. We focus on generalist interest publica-tion outlets as they are increasingly important for the dissemination of sociological knowledge, and thus increasingly bear the potential to deepen the entrenchment between  paradigms (Moksony et al., 2014; Münch, 2018; Puddephatt and McLaughlin, 2015). Moreover, general interest Sociology journals cover research from a wide range of sub-fields and are therefore relevant for a large body of the research community.Specifically, we investigate the following research questions:  • Is a methodological divide reflected in generalist Sociology journal publications? (RQ1)  • If so, to what extent is a methodological divide reflected in tastes for certain para-digms in different Sociology journals (RQ2a) and publication trends over time? (RQ2b)To answer these questions, we apply three theoretical concepts to explain the methodo-logical divide seen in publication outlets. First of all, we scrutinize Merton’s (1968, 1988) concept of the academic prestige economy. This concept highlights the mechanisms to gain reputation for bestowing knowledge on the discipline that is hierarchized within the  paradigms, national context and overall, transnational discourse of Sociology. Second, the concept of boundary demarcation is applied to frame this methodological divide as an actively ongoing interaction between schools of thought, paradigms and outlets (Lamont and Molnár, 2002; Pachucki et al., 2007). Finally, we use the concept of taste proposed by Bourdieu (1989) to explain the stability of the linkage between paradigms and publication outlets, which accounts for the methodological divide. All three mechanisms combined therefore account for the emergence and consolidation of a symbiosis between articles submitted, publication outlets and paradigms.To measure the methodological divide empirically, we rely on quantitative and auto-mated methods of text analysis. Using unidimensional scaling of 8737 abstracts from articles published between 1995 and 2017, we find evidence of this divide, but also of an entanglement between methodological choices and different research topics (RQ1). This methodological divide is reflected in taste for research on the part of different publication outlets (RQ2a). Moreover, our results suggest a marginally increasing time trend for the  publication of quantitative research in generalist journals (RQ2b). They also support the interlinkage between different paradigms and publication outlets and provide evidence of the entrenchment between different schools of thought. Theoretical Concepts and Expectations In academia, scholars constantly try to push the frontiers of knowledge. Yet, it is pre-cisely this overall mission of academia that establishes an academic prestige economy  4  Sociology 00(0) (Merton, 1968, 1988), which is responsible for the distribution of reputation by creating  prestige hierarchies. Prestige hierarchies are based on outreach and perceived relevance of knowledge added by academic peers. These hierarchies are tied to scholars, publica-tion outlets (e.g. by journal impact factors), departments (e.g. REF-profiles, ranking  positions) and paradigms. Hierarchies immanent to the prestige economy also create a market for ideas with reputation as its currency. This market is additionally divided in segments revolving around national scientific cultures, accounting for differing percep-tions of relevant topics, of what counts as qualitative or quantitative approach and of what theory to use (Erola et al., 2015; Williams et al., 2017). Analogous to other markets, the prestige economy is regarded as a symbolic market and tends to produce monopolies or oligopolies (Bourdieu, 1985: 18), which depend on the linkage between methods, top-ics, theories and epistemologies favoured by scholars. Also, belonging to a nationally anchored section of the prestige economy makes it more likely for scholars of the respec-tive country to aim for publication and getting published in outlets located in their own country and instantiation of the prestige economy (Ylijoki et al., 2011). However, with regard to the methodological divide, the prestige economy itself does not predict a domi-nance of either quantitative or qualitative methods.The prestige economy will work and produce oligopolies and durable hierarchies only if boundaries between different discourses, paradigms and references to other disciplines are drawn (Leahey and Moody, 2014; Leahey et al., 2010; Moody and Light, 2006). Such  boundaries are drawn, stabilized and perpetuated by schools of thought, which provides a congruent approach to research topics from a point of view unique to them. These  boundaries are then utilized as means of distinction and sources of worth and orientation for scholars belonging to the same school of thought (Bourdieu, 2004: 55–71). In line with Lamont and Molnár (2002) and Pachucki et al. (2007), such strategies can be coined boundary demarcation . Boundary demarcation aims at raising the worth of one’s own  paradigm as against competing paradigms by monopolizing the access to sections of the scholarly discourse while preventing others from accessing these sections. One way to do so is to publish repeatedly in journals about a number of topics defined as relevant by the peers of the same school of thought, but also by the academic community as a whole. By doing so, demarcations are drawn that are of use as a signalling device to discourage scholars associated with other schools of thought to publish in outlets involved. Editors and reviewers of these journals have to choose among increasingly homogeneous sub-missions, thereby reinforcing certain paradigms without actively aiming to do so (Erola et al., 2015: 389). This linkage reinforces the effects of boundary demarcation and makes the journals beacons for the respective paradigm interacting with the academic prestige hierarchy. The reciprocity between boundary demarcation by scholars and publication outlets is expected to drive, deepen and consolidate the association between publication outlets and paradigms within the period under scrutiny. We therefore expect that a meth-odological divide is reflected in generalist Sociology journals (RQ1).Within disciplinary boundaries, hierarchies provided by the prestige economy and constraints emerging from daily boundary demarcation, scholars develop a taste for research. Taste is defined as a set of dispositions in relation to fields (e.g. academia), enabling actors to take part in the field (Bourdieu, 1989: 19–20; Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 203–204). Fields are usually present at national level, but are able to span national  Schwemmer and Wieczorek 5  boundaries (Schmitz et al., 2017). Therefore, scholars located in different sectors of their respective fields aim to gain reputation at either national or transnational level. At the same time, they are strongly influenced by national specificities of the academic field, including competition among schools of thought and paradigms. In the academic field we may speak of different forms of taste for research that are visible as a distinct combi-nation of methods, theories and research topics. In addition, taste for research also includes preferences for publishing the findings in certain forms of publications such as  journal articles or monographs. Such forms of publication are expected to be read by different audiences that in turn are located in different segments of the prestige economy (e.g. readers of the  American Journal of Sociology  versus readers of Gender and Society ). Since the methods used are linked with research paradigms and aim at audiences with a similar taste for research, we expect that the methodological divide is reflected in tastes for certain paradigms in different Sociology journals (RQ2a).Since academia is not an autonomous field, we expect three mechanisms to interfere with the academic prestige economy leading to a tendency for quantitative methods to  become more dominant over time. First, external pressures such as contingent funding, quantification of research productivity (e.g. impact factors) and demands formulated by stakeholders to tailor research findings influence the prestige economy and urge scholars to publish as frequently as possible in the most prestigious outlets (Feller, 2009: 334– 340; Gläser and Laudel, 2016; Münch, 2014: 31–65; Wieczorek et al., 2017). As will be discussed in more detail below, scholars using quantitative methods are better able to adapt to these circumstances. Second, to cope with external pressures, scholars develop strategies to publish more efficiently, such as working in larger groups. This improves workload distribution and ultimately increases the number of co-authored publications (Lee and Bozeman, 2005). According to Moody (2004: 235), ‘co authorship is more likely in specialties that admit to an easier division of labour. Research method seems  particularly important, showing that quantitative work is more likely to be coauthored than non-quantitative work’. As can be seen in supplementary material S6, this also applies to publications analysed in this article. In addition, quantitative methods allow scholars to systematically reuse gathered data, thus reducing the effort required to pro-duce further articles. Even if there are attempts to address this issue by scholars using qualitative methodology, for example, via the Qualidata archive (i.e. Lampropoulou and Myers, 2013), databases containing quantitative data are more prevalent and include more datasets (e.g. the Harvard Dataverse). Third, the application of quantitative meth-ods is mostly associated with survey data. Such data are collected and prepared for usage  by smaller research groups, as well as governmental bodies and large research institutes. While the former sometimes field their own small-scale surveys, the latter two systemati-cally provide scholars with financial resources, research infrastructures and access to official and administrative data. These factors make the division of labour both necessary and more likely, while the division of labour increases publication output over time (Abramo et al., 2009; Hunter and Leahey, 2008). Ultimately, we expect scholars focusing on ‘theory-building’ and qualitative methods to have a taste for publishing in national  publication outlets in line with Erola et al. (2015). This is because topics focusing on the explanation of country-specific research questions mostly have audiences in the respec-tive countries, thus addressing country-specific instances of the prestige economy. The
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