Field theory is one of the most visible approaches in the new political sociology of science, and Fligstein & McAdam’s (F&M) Theory of Fields is the most visible recent attempt to further it. This paper evaluates F&M’s theory of field transformation by comparing it with Berman’s (2012a) field-based explanation of the changes in the field of US academic science. While F&M’s general framework is quite useful, their explanation, which focuses on struggles between incumbents and challengers over whose conception of the field should dominate, does not map neatly onto the changes in academic science, which saw no such field-level struggles. This suggests that tools are also needed for explaining new settlements that do not result from intentional efforts to establish them. In particular, the case of US academic science shows that local innovations with practices based on alternative conceptions of the field can lead to field-level change. Attention to the interaction between local practice innovations and larger environments provides insights into how change ripples across fields, as well as the ongoing contention and dynamism within even relatively stable fields.
Many thanks to Mathieu Albert, Neil Fligstein, Scott Frickel, David J. Hess, Dan Hirschman, and Abby Kinchy for their useful feedback and suggestions, and to participants in the June 2012 Political Sociology of Science Workshop at the University of Wisconsin for providing the impetus to write this paper. This work was supported in part by the Richard B. Fisher Membership of the Institute for Advanced Study.
Berman, E.P. (2014), "Field Theories and the Move Toward the Market in US Academic Science", Fields of Knowledge: Science, Politics and Publics in the Neoliberal Age (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 27), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 193-221. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-871920140000027015Download as .RIS
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