As anyone reading this blog regularly will be aware, I’m very interested in the dynamics of discipline formation and the implications they have for the capacity of the social sciences to respond to changing circumstances. There are a variety of mechanisms which emerge from organised knowledge production and operate to ensure that this activity fails to be organised in a way which is a reasoned and optimal response to the reality they seek to generate knowledge of. One of these mechanisms can be branching, as new sub disciplines emerge from the same root in a manner which leaves assumptions and practices being reproduced or resisted in a path-dependent fashion: reevaluation of practice becomes difficult when everything is shaped as much by responding to where a sub discipline has come from as it is by the present reality the field confronts. Another mechanism is externalisation, as objects get cast out from a discipline in all manner of ways, never to return in part because they became incorporated into the remit of a continuous discipline. There is an interesting example of this described on loc 4644 of John Scott and Ray Bromley’s Envisioning Sociology:
A key feature of their sociology was its emphasis on the “region,” which was the means through which they were able to theorize the effects of the natural environment on human activities. This very contemporary focus on environmental issues was largely absent from Hobhouse’s view of sociology. While it was fundamental to the work of MacIver and, through him, became a central element in the textbook tradition through which students were trained in sociology (see Scott 2013), it barely figured in the professional practice and research of those who entered academic sociology. Despite the production of a number of “community studies,” a consideration of the environment was largely left to the geographers. Geddes and Branford saw this differently and in ways that are far more in accord with the contemporary concern for environmental issues in sociology.
Does anyone know of an attempt to list these mechanisms? If not, I might undertake it as a blogging exercise, providing examples of each and throwing them out to stimulate debate. My interest in them is predominately practical, as I’m curious about how we can hack these processes to better equip discipline formation for the challenges I can refer vacuously to in brief as ‘the digital’ and ‘the biosocial’. Any ideas about how to pursue this line of thought would be very welcome.