late blooming sociology?

November 16, 2014

You may have seen Kieran Healey’s post about the most cited papers in sociology by decade. Pretty interesting to noodle over, but it’s hard to come up with a clear account of the main sources of the primary trends observed there (as Kieran summarizes – increasing diversity of sources and the declining dominance of AJS/ASR). His conjecture is that the rise of methodological contributions in a broad field can potentially account for both. Interesting possibility, but my immediate reaction was something different.

Since Kieran doesn’t allow comments on his personal blog, and he hasn’t cross-posted this one at orgtheory or elsewhere, I thought I’d once again dust off my login here to offer an alternative hypothesis.

In addition to the primary trends he notes, I’d add one more–which isn’t at all surprising–the number of citations received by those at the top is much higher in older periods than more recent ones. I say not at all surprising, because that’s something we’d (likely) mostly expect by age. But what it lead me to also notice is that the older “stars” in addition to being substantially more cited, are in generalist journals and more “substantively” or theoretically oriented. So this leads to my hypothesis – general contributions of theory and/or substance simply diffuse slower than methodological contributions do, but once they take hold, they plateau at (much?) higher thresholds.

So, to sum up – perhaps these noted trends are the the result of 2 simultaneous trajectories:

  1. Methodological papers gain momentum quicker, but ultimately top out at lower levels of general prominence than substantive/theoretical papers.
  2. Primarily theoretical papers take longer to catch hold, but once they do the potential prominence of them is wider reaching than methodological papers.

This also might suggest that AJS/ASR papers from recent decades could eventually overtake the top of the list, we just haven’t settled collectively yet on which one(s) those will be. It’s probably also worth noting that this isn’t necessarily on contradiction to Kieran’s speculation, but this was the first story I came up with when looking at the trends he presented.

Maybe nothing, but that’s my $0.015 on those data (not sure it’s quite two whole cents).