Tag Archives: field theory

Epistemic Modernization and Social Movements

By David J. Hess

I am interested in the epistemic modernization of the relations among the scientific, industrial, political, and civil society fields.

For centuries scientists have had to defend the precarious autonomy of their concepts, methods, and research agendas from attempts by governments, religions, and industries to influence them. Of course, extra-field influence can be generative. For example, the needs of the military and industry have helped to spur the development of whole research fields, from thermodynamics to chemistry. However, the funding priorities of the patrons of science also shape the contours of dominant and subordinate research programs in many research fields, and the resulting dominant research programs are not always aligned with a broad public interest. Continue reading

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Filed under Essay Dialogues, Politics of Science

Fields of Minority Language Activism (Part One)

As part of my ongoing series on minority language advocacy,  in this post I continue my discussion  by looking at some of the strategic spaces or “fields” targeted by grassroots language activists.  In particular, I consider how minority language activists often work in “political” fields so as to influence state-level governance and policies. In my next post, I will consider how minority language activists also often work in “cultural” fields that involve reaching out to “everday” people and community members in ways that entail the orchestration of festive and educational actions.

Social movements working to resist and reverse processes of minority language loss, such as the Basque movement in France and Spain, the Welsh movement in Great Britain, the Ainu movement in Japan or the Navajo movement in the U.S, have emerged in response to enduring legacies of state-based nationalism founded upon the logic of linguistic assimilation.  Minority language activists challenge the idea that ethnolinguistic diversity is a social problem that must be contained and suppressed. In building these challenge local-level activists, however, need to target specific domains.

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Filed under Daily Disruption

A Theory of Fields: A Review

By David Hess

A Theory of Fields, by Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam. Oxford University Press, 2012.

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


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Great Books for Summer Reading