ongoing research

Video: Gustav-Figdor-Award by the Austrian Academy of Sciences

Political Elites in Austria  (FWF Project, P 31967, 2019 –)

The Austrian Science Fund supports from 2019 onwards my new research project: National and Regional Elites in Austrian Politics – Career Pathways and Personal Interlocks (1945-2018)

The project is concerned with the pathways to power in Austrian politics. Its aim is threefold:  First, creating a biographical database on about 3,000 leading politicians on the national and regional level in Austria since 1945. Second, applying two visualization techniques (sequence analysis, correspondence analysis) to ‘big data’ to figure out dominating patterns in career pathways as well as in the personal interlocks of power holders. Third, combining these ‘objective’ perspectives on powerholders with the ‘subjective’ perspectives of politicians on their careers.

Academic Elites (FWF Project, P29211, 2016-):

I am currently trying to make sense of academic elites in sociology. The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is supporting the project (2016-2019). Basically, I am facing five challenges:

# Challenge 1: How to identify the academic elite in sociology? Or: Who are/were potential Nobel Prize winners in sociology?
In sociology, there are many prestigious academic awards but no single award has reached the high international reputation of the Nobel Prize (or the Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics). Thus the main indicator for oustanding scientific quality are citation counts. Leading scholars in sociology are identified by analysis of a newly generated text corpus (1970-2010) of about 49.000 pages encompassing various genres of literature (encyclopedias, handbooks, journals, textbooks) as well as by investigating the ‘citation careers’ of selected scholars in JSTOR (1940-2010), the world´s largest collection of journal articles.

# Challenge 2: What do we know about the academic careers of leading sociologists?Are their professional careers different from those of the Noble Laureates in economics?
The bulk of work on star sociologists consists of (auto-)biographical contributions. Work that explicitly aims at a collective portrait of the academic elite is rare. I aim at closing this gap by identifying typical career pathways of the elite. The concept of career is understood in structural terms as a succession of related jobs, arranged in a hierarchy of prestige, through which persons move in an ordered sequence. The interest here is with scientific/university careers only encompassing  visiting professorships and research stays at Institutes of Advanced Studies. To better understand disciplinary idiosyncrasies the ‘citation elite’ in sociology is compared with the Nobel Laureates in economics.

# Challenge 3: Does scientific eminence endure? Why is the great Seymour Lipset remembered in political science and neglected in sociology?
With some exceptions, the ‘half-life’ of eminence in textbooks is shorter than half a century – this is one of the main findings of my comparative study on textbooks (1970-2010) in sociology, economics and psychology. As the zeitgeist moves on, most rank-and-file scholars of their time come to have a marginal presence in textbooks. Seymour Lipset and William L. Warner in sociology or Joy P. Guilford and Donald O. Hebb in psychology. The decline in prestige is sometimes difficult to explain. Particularly puzzling is the case of the American sociologist and political scientist Seymour Lipset. Lipset was one of the most productive and most cited social scientists of his time. The 1992 judgement of his mentor Robert K. Merton: “Lipset is one of the truly consequential social scientists of our time”. However, today James S. Coleman or Peter M. Blau play a greater role in sociology than Lipset.

# Challenge 4: What is the role of social networks in the rise to fame?
In her seminal work on Nobel Laureates in the United States Harriet Zuckerman found out that social ties between scientific masters and apprentices are enduring and consequential. In general, social networks are ubiquitous in academia: Mentors write recommendation letters, colleagues push you to work harder, ‘academic friends’ invite you to conferences, etc. Ample evidence suggests that academic careers are crucially dependent upon gatekeepers who provide or deny access to opportunities. I aim at deriving a fuller picture of the role of social networks in academia by considering archive material (e.g. personal correspondences).

# Challenge 5: What is the wider influence of academic elites?
There are two principal ways in which members of the academic elite can exercise influence in the larger society: First, they can act as ‘public intellectuals’, or they can influence politics more directly in the role of advisers. Second, they can have political effects by aquiring particular institutional positions within the policymaking apparatus. To get a very rough estimate of the wider influence of leading sociologists I intend to adopt a measure proposed by Richard Posner in his study of public intellectuals in the USA. By searching the archives of major newspapers I will count for every scholar the number of ‘media mentions’: The higher the number of such hits, the more likely it is that the ideas of a given scholar were taken up and discussed in public.