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R5 - Frickel & Gross - 2005 - A General Theory of Scientific/Intellectual Movements

R5 - Frickel & Gross 2005

R5 - Frickel & Gross - 2005 - A General Theory of Scientific/Intellectual Movements

#research #ssk #theory
cite Frickel, Scott, and Neil Gross. 2005. ‘A General Theory of Scientific/Intellectual Movements’. American Sociological Review 70 (2): 204–32. .
summary A rather straightforward and highly usable framework. The authors conceptualise scientific/intellectual movements (SIMs) as if they were social movements. Not much in the way of unexpected turns, which is not necessarily bad. Will be good to cite when making “self-evident” claims lol.
drafted on 03 Aug 2023


[The key question]
How do scientific/intellectual movements (SIMs) emerge and gain followers, prestige, and institutional stability?
[The key assumption]
SIMs are somewhat similar to social movements — so the social movements theory can be used to answer the aforementioned question.
[This really, really, REALLY should have ended right here. Give me my life back!]

What is a scientific / intellectual movement?

SIMs are collective efforts to pursue research programs or projects for thought in the face of resistance from others in the scientific or intellectual community. (206)
There is a number of assumptions that this definition refers to:
(1) [SIMs have a coherent program]
Research findings are transformed into ideas, which are presented to the intellectual community to be evaluated. ==The production and diffusion of ideas is the main goal of a SIM==. It should be noted that some internal struggle over these ideas can and will take place. Still, it’s a conscious orientation towards the core idea that matters here.
(2) [The core practices of a SIM challenge established practices and normative expectations]
If a movement doesn’t encounter resistance — i.e., if its ideas are uncontroversial, there’s no need for a movement in the first place. [In such a case it’s not a SIM, but a group of people doing “normal science” in a Kuhnian sense.]
(3) [Because of their contentiousness, SIMs are inherently political]
That is, every SIM ultimately aims at changing the intellectual field and acquiring more power and resources. This does not necessarily mean dominating a field in its entirety, though.
(4) [SIMs exist through organized collective action]
SIMs are networks of social relationships, and without coordination they would not exist. Doing science on such a scale requires at least some basic coordination.
(5) [SIMs are episodic]
[There are no social movements that we know of that exist indefinitely].
(6) [SIMs have different aim and scope]
Their goals vary immensely: introducing new theories or entirely new topics, establishing new methods and rules, redefining the boundaries of intellectual fields, being progressive or reactionary etc.

Theoretical presuppositions

Following the strong program in the SSK: the establishment of truth of ideas is considered a result of social processes, not a consequence of ideas having some measure of intrinsic truth of their own.
Acknowledging that scientific fields are historically emergent, i.e. they are not homogenous. Thus, SIMs work differently in different fields.
SIMs are subject to influence of political and cultural environment as a whole (religion, state, social movements, industry…), not only of scientific fields.
==Social ties between actors that comprise a SIM can be measured==, however crudely, along with the social conditions these actors find themselves in. The same applies to SIM’s success or failure → the theory can be empirically tested.

A general theory

Four propositions on how SIMs emerge. Ceteris paribus clause applies in all cases.

Proposition 1: A SIM is more likely to emerge when high-status intellectual actors harbor complaints against what they understand to be the central intellectual tendencies of the day

Historical literature indicates that the experience of grievance is a universal prerequisite of a type of collective intellectual action that results in the emergence of SIMs. Making a conscious decision to differentiate oneself from the mainstream intellectual practices is a significant risk. People developing new intellectual/research programs would do so only in the presence of a genuine irritation/doubt [the reasons can be manifold.] Taking such risks can’t be explained by vying for strategic gain/prestige/status alone.
Older, high-status intellectuals, having significant freedom and resources, are in the best positions to lead SIMs. Somewhat close in this regard are younger scholars, who are well-connected, but are not yet protected from the pressure of the field. Thus, SIM emergence is dependent upon the desire/ability of high-status actors to act upon their grievances.
One example: Garfinkel’s opposition to Parsons → emergence of ethnomethodology.
[There is a number of other examples in the article, so this proposition more or less checks out.]

Proposition 2: SIMs are more likely to be successful when structural conditions provide access to key resources

[a.k.a. an application of Tilly’s mobilization theory to the intellectual field.]
SIMs “do not just happen” (213) — they require resource mobilization on both individual and collective levels. Individual members of the movement have to manage their everyday responsibilities (teaching, research, publishing, networking, grants etc.) and overcome potential obstacles associated with participation in a SIM. All of this requires resources, so SIMs need access to them to make it possible for their participants to participate. On the whole, SIMs need coordination, and coordination requires resources too. So,
==Opportunity structure== of a SIM = all kinds of resources objectively available to a SIM relative to SIMs autonomy against those resources. (214)
SIMs are able to modify opportunity structures, but still those are mostly contingent.
==Two fundamental resources are money and opportunities for publication.==

[Components of the intellectual opportunity structure]

(1) Employment for SIM participants
Today employment opportunities are mostly tied to universities → dependent on how higher education is doing. [Not exactly great lol.]
Tight labour market breeds dissent, which is beneficial for SIMs.
Dynamics of the labour market are international.
SIM members eventually heed to occupy secure academic positions for SIM to succeed.
(2) Intellectual prestige
SIMs that can help their members maintain/restore/access additional prestige, are more likely to succeed.
And vice versa — that is likely to happen when there are competitor movements.
Competing movements are rarely outright oppositional. SIMs need a proper positive vision to attract participants. But, according to Collins (1998) intellectual world is a rather tight place, so only a limited number of positions can receive sufficient attention at any given time.
Monopolization of prestige by a single group can happen — this dramatically affects survivability of their competitors.
The dynamics between these positions/SIMs are not always zero-sum.
(3) Organizational resources
Also known as mobilizing structures.
These include departments, channels of communication, networks (personal — “invisible colleges” — and institutional), organisations.
Organisational resources can facilitate not only internal communication, but the links with external (non-scientific) institutions as well.
From organisational standpoint, lower-status positions are important for SIM’s success:
Those scholars perform “normal science” → more prestige for the movement
They can act as organisational leaders: think conferences, editorial work etc.
A department is a key organisational unit that reproduces SIM’s identity and culture. [Are departments really that important now though?]
An individualistic epistemic culture (cf. Knorr-Cetina 1999) makes SIMs emergence more likely, whereas a collectivist one helps SIMs to institutionalize.

Proposition 3: The greater a SIM’s access to various micromobilization contexts, the more likely it is to be successful

To recruit new members, SIMs need to facilitate contact with potential recruits — i.e. there should be local environments where representatives of the movement can recruit new members. In the social movements research they are called ==micromobilization contexts==. Recruitment thus depends on of a SIM does have access to the places like departments and laboratories — especially the ones that connected to the graduate programs.

Proposition 4: The success of a SIM is contingent upon the work done by movement participants to frame movement ideas in ways that resonate with the concerns of those who inhabit an intellectual field or fields

[For some reason this part is an absolute pain in the ass. A little contrived and not at all that illuminating.]
Frames of a SIM operate along 4 different dimensions which reciprocally shape each other.
(1) [Intellectual self-concepts]
Identities of intellectuals can not (at least, not fully) be reduced to a combination of their class, race, gender, and position in their field. There are also intellectual types (==intellectual self-concepts==) that thinkers use to classify themselves and the other intellectuals. While producing their work, they strive for it to be consistent with their self-concept. A SIM comes together and succeeds (or fails) depending on its framing around a set of intellectual self-concepts.
(2) [Rhetorics of collective identity]
While framing a SIM, intellectuals make ==collective identity claims== — i.e. discuss, interpret, and clarify the defining ideas of the movement. This is an important thing from a political standpoint.
(3) [Construction of historical narratives]
[This is the most self-evident part.]
It is important for SIMs to have a narrative on their emergence [an origin myth], history, the most important figures etc. — as a tool of legitimation and positioning.
(4) [Positioning in relation to competitors]
As SIMs are projects for intellectual change, there is necessity to differentiate from the alternative projects. So different SIMs are likely to make rhetorical moves of various sophistication and riskiness against each other. Movement success depends inter alia on the effectiveness of those moves.


[Differences between SIMs and social movements]

SIMs are somewhat like social movements, but somewhat aren’t. There are 4 key differences.
(1) [Scale]
Social movements are nation-wide, SIMs involve much less people → there’s less resources, less publicity, less impact etc.
(2) [Goals]
SIMs aim for the changes of smaller scope — in fact, everyday people may not notice them at all.
(3) [Stakes]
The biggest risk for SIM participants is their professional reputation, which is nowhere near the level of risk for some social movements (like prison or death). This has to do with the values: academia values intellectual progress; the state, above all, values order. [And it probably also has to do something with the fact that academia, unlike the state, doesn’t routinely employ violence as a method of enforcing order.]
Moreover, SIMs don’t act in a contentious way that social movements do:
Instead, successful SIM tactics tend to involve mundane actions directed at contentious ends, and we would expect to find a far more subtle blurring of boundaries between collective action that is normative and that which is quietly transformative. (226)
(4) [Social backgrounds of the leadership]
Historically the leaders of social movements rarely came from the social elite, and often from middle classes. SIMs are likely have high-status intellectuals as their leaders — which is for the intellectual field an equivalent to upper-class. ​[WTF. The authors do recognize that being a high-status intellectual “can be” (can be, my ass) connected to being upper-class, but what’s the point of this comparison then?]
Though SIMs could be divided into two groups: internal to the intellectual field and tied to social movements. The former type is more likely to be lead by younger thinkers, and the latter by older intellectuals, who can sustain the career risks associated with going political. ​[Unexpected but makes sense.]

[Further research]

Effects of specific field conditions on SIMs
What else is there between total success and total failure of SIMs
Stealth SIMs? [This one is kinda interesting.]

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