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National Research University Higher School of EconomicsCentre for Fundamental SociologyArchitecture of the Invisible College: a Study of Global Theoretical Communication in Social Sciences

Architecture of the Invisible College: a Study of Global Theoretical Communication in Social Sciences

HeadFilippov, Alexander F.

Academic communication has become a legitimate subject for sociological research since the emergence of academic sociology as an independent sub-discipline. Over the last 50 years, over 10,000 articles and treatises have been devoted to defining what the world academic community is, its norms and practices and its mechanisms of self-organization and reproduction. As suggested by one of the major scientometrists of the XX century Derek J. de Solla Price, the global academic community was called metaphorically the invisible college. Despite a significant number of publications on the topic, it still can’t be described as ‘thoroughly researched’. This is related to the fact that knowledge production studies still have axiomatics of national schools priority, a concept stating that local research and teaching centers are more important for science reproduction than global international networks, communication flows and theoretical languages, uniting these centers into one integral (even though heterogeneous) whole. Partly it is attributed to the fact that science sociology – one of the most rapidly developing sectors of sociologic knowledge at the moment – still lacks its own language of description that can adequately reflect global academic transactions.

Currently, there is no holistic system of codification and analysis that would facilitate orientation of motivated observers and member of the global academic communication to the terrain – the space of theoretic social knowledge production. The  vast majority of Russian works on this problem are either too formal (i. e. are based on quantitative analysis of recorded academic contacts and communication events – publications, symposia, reports and messages) or predeterminedly biased (i.e. they demonstrate the fight of definitionsconflict of strategies and market of authorities in the field of science reproduction rather than studying this field in its completeness and heterogeneity). European and American research works in this area are, as a rule, more efficient, but are insusceptible to problems of space localization of those communicating.

The combination of new theoretic description languages – focused on the topics of space and event structure of communication – with the traditional problems of academic knowledge sociology is the foundation of productive research innovation.

At first sight, academic theoretical communication has features which are obvious, specific and viable for sociological research: a number of conference and symposia, research centers focused on theoretic knowledge production, a number of academic and para-academic journals and magazines devoted to theoretical problems etc. Based on these features, sociologists look for long-term trends in macro-sociologic and statistic analysis: the commercialization of the knowledge production area, enlargement (or, on the contrary, contraction) of the grant economy area, formation of an expert opinion market and an academic authority market, market of articles and a market of magazines/journals. The only issue that this analysis doesn’t cover is the cognitive rather than social content of these changes. In other words, can we safely say that the global transformation of knowledge production, spreading and consumption leads to content changes in the produced knowledge? Institutional analysis that has merged unexpectedly in Russian research practice with traditional Marxist analysis, overlooks the produced knowledge itself, instead concentrating on the institutes of its production, spread and consumption.

Criticism of this institutional approach gave momentum to sociologic knowledge research at the end of the 20th century (especially in the context of the concept of the knowledge-based economy). This movement attempts to study knowledge (theoretical knowledge in our case) as a relatively autonomous phenomenon that has its own development logic and immanent characteristics rather than as a passive, completely socially-determined dependent variable. This approach originated new theories and methodologies: in economics – research of economic processes in informational nontransparent systems, theory of information asymmetry and, experimental economics by Tversky and Kahneman. In social studies, the move from knowledge sociology to cognitive sociology (A. Cicourel, E. Zerubavel), from the sociology of scientists to the sociology of academic translations (B. Latour, M. Callon), from the sociology of culture to cultural sociology (J. Alexander). Still these trends had virtually no impact on Russian research of science, which still avoids the question of produced knowledge content, quality of intellectual products, formation of new cognitive cultures, and are still using the language of the production-consumption-spreading industry.

Our approach is based on an attempt to develop a new methodology for researching theoretical transactions that come from the operating definition of academic communication events, which excludes the reduction of cognitive content in theoretical knowledge to the social aspects of its existence. Theoretical resources of this descriptive language are the sociology of space, frame analysis and event theory.

Thus, the Architecture of the invisible college project is aimed at the integration of researchers-theoreticians into the world academic communication. This research is oriented towards obtaining trust-worthy information about logic and the mechanics of global theoretical communication in social sciences, on the one hand, and its practical inclusion into communicative networks on the other hand. Thus the research component of the project is supplemented by a communicative element, which defines a series of tasks set in the context of the project:

  • Review and analysis of existing research works on theoretical communication in social sciences, map-making of intellectual space;
  • Codification of theoretical resources relevant to the studied problem;
  • Conceptualization: creation of an analytic language that adequately describes the logic and mechanics of theoretical knowledge development in global communication.

 

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