By David Hess
A Theory of Fields is the product of the longstanding collaboration that began during the 1980s, when Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam were colleagues at the University of Arizona. They define a strategic action field as a “constructed mesolevel social order in which actors (who can be individual or collective) are attuned to and interact with one another on the basis of shared (which is not to say consensual) understandings about the purposes of the field, relationships to others in the field (including who has power and why), and the rules governing legitimate action in the field” (p. 9). They distinguish fields from the concept of “institutional logics,” which they see as implying too much consensus among actors and focusing too much on reproduction (p. 11-12).
Field theory is of general importance in the social sciences because it provides a way to balance tendencies toward structural determinism and agency as well as micro and macro scales of analysis. There are many theory traditions of field sociology, and F&M provide a discussion of some of them, but in terms of accumulated symbolic capital such as citations, Bourdieu’s field theory is clearly the leader and arguably the most intellectually significant point of comparison. Having found a somewhat loose appropriation of Bourdieu’s field sociology to be valuable in the study of science, technology, social movements, and society, I am sympathetic with F&M’s use of Bourdieu’s work and willingness to modify it as they see fit. Continue reading