Social Knowledge in the Making


Over the past quarter century, researchers have successfully explored the inner workings of the physical and biological sciences using a variety of social and historical lenses. Inspired by these advances, the contributors to Social Knowledge in the Making turn their attention to the social sciences, broadly construed. The result is the first comprehensive effort to study and understand the day-to-day activities involved in the creation of...

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Over the past quarter century, researchers have successfully explored the inner workings of the physical and biological sciences using a variety of social and historical lenses. Inspired by these advances, the contributors to Social Knowledge in the Making turn their attention to the social sciences, broadly construed. The result is the first comprehensive effort to study and understand the day-to-day activities involved in the creation of social-scientific and related forms of knowledge about the social world.
The essays collected here tackle a range of previously unexplored questions about the practices involved in the production, assessment, and use of diverse forms of social knowledge. A stellar cast of multidisciplinary scholars addresses topics such as the changing practices of historical research, anthropological data collection, library usage, peer review, and institutional review boards. Turning to the world beyond the academy, other essays focus on global banks, survey research organizations, and national security and economic policy makers. Social Knowledge in the Making is a landmark volume for a new field of inquiry, and the bold new research agenda it proposes will be welcomed in the social science, the humanities, and a broad range of nonacademic settings.

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Editorial Reviews

Steven Shapin
“It was once believed that a sociological understanding of the natural sciences was ‘hard,’ even impossible, while the human and social sciences were ‘easy,’ even obvious, sociological objects. Why ever did we think this? Much human scientific knowledge has a self-referential character, and almost all of it confronts complex problems of establishing its expert authority. That alone makes the sociological study of the human sciences both hard and important. Social Knowledge in the Making is an eclectic assemblage of state-of-the-art scholarship showing how we might go about interpreting the production and evaluation of human scientific knowledge. It is a considerable achievement.”
Craig Calhoun
“Social scientists and humanists have been surprisingly inattentive to the institutional infrastructure and culture of shared practices on which our work rests. Social Knowledge in the Making changes this with a set of sharp and well-informed analyses.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226092096
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Camic is the John Evans Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University and the author or editor of several volumes, including, most recently, Essential Writings of Thorstein Veblen. Neil Gross is associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia and the author of Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher. Michèle Lamont is the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies, professor of Sociology, and professor of African and African American studies at Harvard University. Her most recent book is How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment.

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Social Knowledge in the Making

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2011 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-09209-6

Chapter One

Library Research Infrastructure for Humanistic and Social Scientific Scholarship in the Twentieth Century


I have two major aims in this chapter. The first is empirical. I want to recover the practices, communities, and institutions of library researchers and their libraries in the twentieth century. There is at present almost no synthetic writing about this topic, and I aim to fill that gap. This empirical investigation points to a second, more theoretical one. There turns out to be a longstanding debate between librarians and disciplinary scholars over the proper means to create, store, and access the many forms of knowledge found in libraries. By tracing the evolution of this debate, I create a theoretical context for current debates about library research.

By library research I mean those academic disciplines that take as their data material which is recorded and deposited. Throughout the period here investigated, that deposit took place in libraries or archival repositories. In practice, the library research disciplines include the research branches of the humanities and a substantial portion of the social sciences: study of the various languages and literatures, philosophy, musicology, art history, classics, and history, as well as extensive parts of linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and political science. (In earlier years, economics would have been on this list as well.) It is work in these fields that I mean when referring to "library research" throughout this chapter. For convenience I sometimes denote these disciplines as HSS (for humanities and humanistic social sciences). I am not concerned with library use by nonexperts such as undergraduates, avocational readers, and the larger public, nor with library use by natural scientists, for whom the library is not, as it is for their HSS colleagues, a crucial laboratory.

Three major ruptures mark library research in the twentieth century: World Wars I and II and the academic market crash of the 1970s. World War I broke the German dominance of the academic system, paving the way for American leadership. World War II not only confirmed the hegemony of American scholarship (and of English as the language of scholarship) but also produced an explosion in American higher education. The end of this expansion in the 1970s produced a final rupture, resulting in the research system that is just passing away today.

The periods between these transitions can be thought of as research regimes, periods in which there was a more or less stable library research world. I shall call these the formative, interwar, postwar, and implosion periods, respectively. In this chapter I try to sketch the basic qualities of research in each of them: its demography, its library resources, its basic reference structure, and the habitus of scholarship that those three things implied. Since the absence of prior literature forces my work to be largely descriptive, I cannot here theorize these "research regimes" in any deep way. For the moment, they are simply periods in which library research took a recognizable, somewhat constant form.

Since estimating scholarly demography and library resources is most conveniently done across the whole century, however, I shall begin with general discussions of those themes. I then turn to the main analysis, which is by period.


One central determinant of a research regime is its demography, the number of active scholars at a given time. There is no obvious measure of this number, nor are there consistent records for the likely indirect indicators: faculty numbers, PhD numbers, and society members. Since faculty data are the least specifically tied to research, I shall here use the other two—PhD numbers and society membership data—to estimate the demography of library research. For the major HSS disciplines, figure 1.1 shows rates of PhDs produced per year from the 1920s. The figure shows the five-year average for the period labeled, this being considerably more stable than year-to-year figures. I have not included data earlier than the 1920s, because disciplinary identities were quite unstable before that time. I have used a logarithmic scale to show the short-term changes that would otherwise be overwhelmed by the long-term (through 1974) exponential growth.

Another view of PhD production comes from the full (1920–95) data series on PhDs in the Millennium Edition of the Historical Statistics (Carter et al. 2006), which presents PhD series for "Foreign Languages," "Letters" (presumably all humanities other than "Visual and Performing Arts"), and "Social Sciences and History." (Note that psychology is excluded.) Table 1.1 presents this sum for each decadal year in its second column. The other columns use a simple extrapolation to estimate the total number of PhD dissertations ever written in HSS up to a given date (the third column) and the proportion of the total of all dissertations written by 2007 that were written after the date shown (fourth column). For example, 530 PhDs were conferred in 1930, and 5,502 dissertations had been written as of 1930 since the beginning of American academia, representing only 2 percent (100 percent – 98 percent) of the total of all dissertations available as of today. Roughly speaking, 5 percent of all American dissertations written by 2007 were written in the formative and interwar periods, about 20 percent during the postwar period, and the other 75 percent since 1970. By adding an initial founding generation (with European PhDs) to the ex trapolation of the National Research Council data above, the 1920–95 data series can be used to estimate the number and age of people with doctorates alive and in academia at any given moment. These figures are shown in the final two columns of table 1.1.

The size of professional societies provides a useful alternative measure of the size of the library research world (table 1.2). Like the PhD figures, however, society figures are somewhat elusive. The Carnegie Institution did a census of societies in 1908. The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) (in its Bulletin) kept consistent statistics for its constituent societies from 1920 to 1960. After that time, there is no single consistent listing. Regularly issued sources like The World of Learning (WOL) and The Encyclopedia of Associations are erratic in coverage. The former appears somewhat more accurate (because the figures change more often), so I have followed it here after 1960, designating the numbers from it Series B. (To make the transition clear, I have given both figures—from the ACLS and from WOL—for 1960. Note that WOL is often substantially below the ACLS totals for that year.) I have located exact data for two societies only (American Economic Association and American Sociological Association).

I have provided two sums to estimate the size of HSS academia as a whole. The first (libusersum) sums the memberships of the "library-user" societies (not all of them shown) among the ACLS constituent societies. The second sum ("weighted LUS") weights these societies by a rough estimate of their use of libraries. This is a best estimate of the actual research group aiming to use the libraries. The "Growth" row gives the ratio of this second sum from period to period. Thus, the 1920 weighted LUS figure is 1.56 times that of 1908.

Combining the society data with the PhD data provides the interpretive key to this mass of information. Table 1.3 shows, for each year given, the ratio between the relevant societies figure—the total in the core ACLS societies (American Philological Association, Modern Language Association, American Historical Association, American Economic Association, American Political Science Association, American Sociological Association, and American Anthropological Association)—and the number of PhD holders currently "available," in terms of the extrapolations discussed above. It is evident that the nonprofessionals were not immediately squeezed out of the "professional" societies but rather persisted in them almost up to World War II. Only around 1940 did the number of PhD holders in the system at a given time approach the number of society members.

A second important fact involves libraries more directly. The turnaround of this ratio after World War II reflects an increase in institutional memberships for the purpose of library subscriptions, reported in detailed ACLS data not shown. The postwar period thus saw much wider availability of core research periodicals via an upgrading of library holdings below the first- and second-tier facilities.

The third crucial fact in this table is of course the plunge of the society/ PhD ratio from 1970 on. A portion of this plunge, to be sure, reflects the emergence of PhDs in new fields outside the classical canon. But the majority of it probably reflects PhDs leaving academia. Indeed, by this estimate, from a quarter to a third of all PhDs in these fields were not to be found in the professional organizations, no doubt because they were not employed as academics.

Overall, these ratios imply that PhD numbers are the best guide to the size of library research academia before World War II, but that society membership numbers are the best guide afterward. The relatively slow growth of the societies in the interwar academic world (in table 1.2) conceals the rapid replacement of amateurs with professionals.


This complex demography of research scholars inhabited a surprisingly small group of libraries, because graduate training—and to a considerable extent scholarship as a whole—was astonishingly concentrated for much of the twentieth century. As of 1925, one quarter of all American PhDs ever conferred had come from two institutions—Columbia and Chicago. Five institutions (those plus Harvard, Yale, and Hopkins) had conferred 50 percent, and ten institutions (those plus Cornell, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, and Illinois) had conferred 75 percent. Table 1.4 shows the equivalent statistics up through 1955. (Note that this is for all types of PhDs and hence includes education, speech, clinical psychology, etc.) As late as the early 1950s, fourteen institutions were responsible for half of all the PhDs conferred in a given year. For two decades in the interwar and postwar periods, respectively, table 1.5 shows the figures for the particular fields of interest here. These are typically higher than the table 1.4 figures, since universities tended to specialize (table 1.5 looks at the most prolific departments in each particular field, not the same five universities in all fields). Despite the declines, as of the mid-1950s it is still true that from 30 to 40 percent of PhDs in any given HSS field come from the five most prolific departments and that about two-thirds come from the twenty most prolific departments. Nor did the identity of the top five change much: California replaced Hopkins, but Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Chicago remained in the top group. This means in turn that well into the postwar research period most library research dissertations were based in a small handful of libraries whose names are familiar to any seasoned library worker then or now: Widener, Sterling, Butler, Harper, Doe, and so on.

Throughout its long dominance, this handful of great university libraries was complemented by a handful of equally great nonuniversity libraries. Just as amateur scholars remained in the professional academic societies much later than we imagine, so too did the great public and specialty libraries remain major research centers. The public libraries of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore (Peabody Institute), and Chicago were great indeed; the New York Public Library trailed only the Library of Congress (LC) and Harvard in sheer size, while the Chicago Public Library was the only library with over a million volumes west of the Appalachians until the University of Chicago Library passed that level in 1931. There were great private libraries as well: Boston's Atheneum, with its notable rare books; Chicago's Newberry and Crerar Libraries, covering humanities and sciences, respectively; the great medical libraries of the New York Academy of Medicine and the Philadelphia College of Physicians. Washington had not only LC but also the immense collection of the Surgeon General. With few exceptions the great nonuniversity libraries were in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Chicago, as were the great PhD-producing universities other than Yale, which was, however, only a two-hour train ride from New York. The extraordinary preeminence of these "library cities" was well recognized at the time (see, e.g., Bishop 1926, 215).

For most scholars, however, the first recourse was their college or university library. The data available, although incomplete, show a number of things about these libraries. First, all of them expanded rapidly during the twentieth century, in volumes, material expense, and, to a lesser extent, staff. Typically, the fifth-largest library at a given time point is about the size of the tenth-largest ten years later, and the tenth about the size of the twentieth ten years later. Second, libraries typically hired about one staff member per ten thousand volumes, a ratio that tended to fall somewhat, both at a given time and over time, as libraries grew larger. They thus probably had a fixed numerical core of workers—reference, cataloging, acquisitions, and other technical staff—who would simply handle more volumes as holdings expanded. These core workers were common to all libraries with research pretensions, but by the 1960s the elite research libraries (members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL)—perhaps 1 percent of university libraries) had all passed beyond this technical core of library workers into a zone of purely optional hiring: area bibliographers and other such luxuries.

Third, within the elite libraries, however, there was considerable leveling both in volume numbers and in materials spending after World War II. This leveling was probably driven by government documents. The depository system sends every premier state institution the same mass of government documents, holdings that can be up to one-third of a collection. The apparent leveling in volumes thus conceals a great hidden difference in early monographic and serial holdings built up before World War II. These enduring differences remained crucial in disciplines like history, English literature, and German studies. It is thus not at all surprising that for the first half of the twentieth century, the roster of the top five university libraries in terms of sheer volumes coincides almost exactly with the roster of the five most prolific HSS PhD–producing universities: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Chicago were among the top five until 1961, when Chicago—then in financial rout—fell out.

Throughout the formative, interwar, and even into the postwar periods, then, library scholars were generally trained in first-rate libraries located in or near other first-rate libraries and then spent their careers in considerably less excellent libraries far away from this remarkable core. Because of this career pattern, it is not surprising that through all three periods the university librarians as well as the American Library Association (ALA) and the disciplinary societies emphasized investment in library infrastructure that would enable the location of distant resources by scholars who remembered fondly the libraries of Boston, New York, Washington, and Chicago. These located sources were then either borrowed via interlibrary loan or visited during holiday or sabbatical research trips.

By library infrastructure, I mean all those tools that enable scholars to conduct their research in libraries. To a certain extent, these are basic tools: bibliographies, indexes, and abstracts that identify sources in the three basic kinds of materials—periodicals, books, and archives/documents. But library research involves not only these core bibliographical tools but also highly organized guides to particular materials in particular areas. If one surveys the eleven editions of the ALA's Guide to Reference Books, the greatest increase is not in the core tools but in these reference works on "special subjects." These works took up a third of the pages of the first edition of the Guide (Kroeger 1902), half of the third (Mudge 1923), and two-thirds of the seventh (Winchell 1951). By contrast, core infrastructure remained about 12 percent of the pages in all three.


Excerpted from Social Knowledge in the Making Copyright © 2011 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: The Study of Social Knowledge Making
Charles Camic, Neil Gross, and Michèle Lamont

Part I
Knowledge Production in the Disciplines

One / Library Research Infrastructure for Humanistic and Social Scientific Scholarship in the Twentieth Century
Andrew Abbott

Two / In Clio’s American Atelier
Anthony T. Grafton

Three / Filing the Total Human: Anthropological Archives from 1928 to 1963
Rebecca Lemov

Four / Academic Conferences and the Making of Philosophical Knowledge
Neil Gross and Crystal Fleming

Five / Practical Foundations of Theorizing in Sociology: The Case of Pierre Bourdieu
Johan Heilbron

Part II
Knowledge Evaluation Sites

Six / Comparing Customary Rules of Fairness: Evaluative Practices in Various Types of Peer Review Panels
Michèle Lamont and Katri Huutoniemi

Seven / Meetings by the Minute(s): How Documents Create Decisions for Institutional Review Boards
Laura Stark

Eight / An Experiment in Interdisciplinarity: Proposals and Promises
Marilyn Strathern

Part III
Social Knowledge beyond the Academy

Nine / Subjects of Persuasion: Survey Research as a Solicitous Science; or, The Public Relations of the Polls
Sarah E. Igo

Ten / The Practices of Objectivity in Regulatory Science
Sheila Jasanoff

Eleven / How Claims to Know the Future Are Used to Understand the Present: Techniques of
Prospection in the Field of National Security
Grégoire Mallard and Andrew Lakoff

Twelve / What Do Market Designers Do When They Design Markets? Economists as Consultants to the Redesign of Wholesale Electricity Markets in the United States
Daniel Breslau

Thirteen / Financial Analysis: Epistemic Profile of an Evaluative Science
Karin Knorr Cetina


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