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Disciplines and their dynamics

Disciplines and their dynamics

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Disciplines and their dynamics

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  1. Interactive agenda Setting 18th and 19th November 2004, Cosener’s House, Abingdon Disciplines and their dynamics • The character and structure of academic disciplines • The careers of ideas and of individual researchers • The institutional contexts of academic research - and what these mean for the production of new knowledge • The relation between 'internal' and 'external' influences on knowledge development

  2. Fractal Division and disciplinary development (Abbott, The Chaos of Disciplines, 2001) • All disciplines follow a similar pattern of fractal division. • These divisions are repeated throughout the fabric of the discipline • Even as the difference between positions narrows, the oppositions repeat themselves. • Aims to reflects the positioning strategies of discipline practitioners, as well as cognitive structuring of disciplines

  3. At the edges of fractal patterning, positions can have more in common with those from other disciplines than their own • Rather than expand indefinitely, some branches, or lines of enquiry, will wither away; their concerns can be remapped onto existing or emerging branches • Through this cycle of split, conflict and ingestion, the cyclical recurrence of sets of ideas and concepts is explained

  4. The fractal pattern will expand into the available space set by external factors; academic positions, research funding, space in journals • An abundance of resources suggests eclectic disciplinary content • Limited resources suggests less diversity • Positions an internalist argument about discipline development within the confines of external factors

  5. Tribes and territories • (Becher and Trowler Academic Tribes and Territories 2001) • Basic argument that the social and institutional characteristics of knowledge communities or tribes affect the epistemological properties of the knowledge they produce. • Distinguish between four types of knowledge which mediate the effect and the impact of external changes in social and institutional contexts. For instance ‘applied’ subjects are more open to non-academic influence than ‘pure’

  6. A further dimension of how a discipline handles external challenges depends on its novelty or maturity • However, disciplines are constituted and reproduced by their practitioners: recruitment and reproduction are vital. • So contextual factors such as university and faculty organisation or research funding availability can affect processes of recruitment and the activities of recruits and therefore a discipline's trajectory • And the assumed goal of academic tribes is to be able to resist external influence on their territories • A high degree of consensus and stability within the networks of affiliation and association between practitioners reduces the potential for disruption • In contrast a less homogeneous (pre-paradigmatic) discipline might be characterised by a number of conflicting networks; there is less consensus by which to settle dispute and defection

  7. Becher and Trowler also distinguish urban and rural modes of knowledge production • Again, the intimation is that disciplines constituted within urban modes are more able to resist external influence, whether regarding the practices of disciples (e.g. managerialism) or the knowledge itself (e.g. research funder influence on research topics)

  8. A System of disciplines • Whitley The intellectual and social organisation of the sciences (1984) • Develops a systematic map of academic endeavour • Characterises intellectual fields, as social organisations like any other where raw materials are converted into outputs (new knowledge) • But they have two distinctive and contradictory features; the pursuit of novelty and the need to conform to collective standards of research practice and new knowledge creation.

  9. Reputation and reward are the main factors driving the activities of people within fields, and access to these is provided by • The disciplinary elites (who have reputation already) who judge the validity and quality of research • University structures which control access to resources • The balance of power between discipline and institution is what Whitley call the ‘dual system’ • Whitley then offers two ways to distinguish different fields: through mutual dependence and task uncertainty • Mutual dependence refers to the types of relations researchers must build in order to acquire reputation and reward. • Task uncertainty is about balance between predictable outcomes (from bureaucratic / institutional control) and novel knowledge generation

  10. 16 possible combinations of degree of mutual dependence and degree of task uncertainty. Shaded boxes indicate ‘unlikely’ combinations: Degree of Functional Dependence Low High Degree of Strategic Dependence Degree of Strategic Dependence Low High Low High Degree of Technical Task Uncertainty Low Degree of Strategic Task Uncertainty Low 1 2 3 4 High 5 6 7 8 High Degree of Strategic Task Uncertainty Low 9 10 11 12 High 13 14 15 16 • This allows Whitley to provide a matrix of fields, based on their relations to task uncertainty and mutual dependence

  11. What do these approaches offer a discussion of interactive agenda setting? • For all of these approaches, diversity and novelty arises when there are multiple and divergent controlling forces – for instance an abundance of outside resources or plural audiences for research • But the goal of discipline change is positioned as striving for homogeneity and consensus; disciplines as things striving for internal coherence in the face of external forces pulling in different (and seemingly unwelcome) directions. • So have positions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ • The idea of reputation and reward as influencing the activities occurring within disciplines and controlled by a mix of internal and external bodies is potentially useful in understanding how challenging or novel ideas and research questions flourish or fail. • Also, novelty, as a desirable feature, is seen as a function of having external influences on disciplinary content and activities

  12. Ideas and interactive agenda setting • Abbott comes closest in thinking about how ideas contribute to disciplinary development • However, this is in contrast to how trends and positions are usually set out in historical accounts (i.e.from Marx, Weber and Durkheim, to functionalism, symbolic interactionism, structural Marxism to post-structuralism…) – here there is little, if any connection to ‘external’ influences. • So where, and how, do the interactions between ideas, disciplines and research agendas, occur?

  13. Themes of the workshop • Fashions and trends • How do new research topics come and go? • How do previously popular topics decline? • The career of ideas • How do disciplines and sub-disciplines develop? • How do sequences of argument and debate play out, and what influences them? • Reproducing and transforming disciplines and their followers • How are people attracted to new topics? • How does work shape disciplinary trajectories? • How do different careers follow and contribute to disciplinary change? • The outside world and setting priorities • How does disciplinary change relate to non-academic priorities and pressures? • How are non-academic priorities influences by disciplines and academia?