This paper aims to explore disciplinary variation in valuation practices by comparing the way research groups accumulate credibility across four epistemic cultures. Our analysis is based on case studies of four high-performing research groups representing very different epistemic cultures in humanities, social sciences, geosciences and mathematics. In each case we interviewed about ten researchers, analyzed relevant documents and observed a couple of meetings. In all four cases we found a cyclical process of accumulating credibility. At the same time, we found significant differences in the manifestation of the six main resources that are part of the cycle, the mechanisms of conversion between these resources, the overall structure and the average speed of the credibility cycle. The different ways in which the groups use data and produce arguments affect the whole cycle of accumulating credibility. In some cultures, journal publications are the main source of recognition, but in others one can earn significant amounts of recognition for conference contributions or service to the academic community. Moreover, the collaboration practices in the respective fields strongly influence the connection between arguments and publications. In cultures where teams of researchers collaboratively produce arguments, it is more strongly embedded in the process of writing publications. We conclude that the credibility cycle can only be used as an analytical tool to explain the behavior of researchers or research groups when taking differences across epistemic cultures into account.
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One of the weak points of the notion of cultures is its breadth and high level of abstractness. According to Gläser and colleagues, this implies that it has a limited explanatory power in sociology of science. They argue that a more precise definition of the concept is required to facilitate a meaningful comparison of different research cultures and offer a more detailed operationalization (Gläser et al. 2015). In this paper, we do not use epistemic cultures as an explanatory concept but rather as a heuristic tool to characterize different research areas.
The case studies were originally conducted as part of a project on excellent science (Hessels et al. 2016).
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The authors thank Leonie van Drooge for many stimulating discussions and Jochen Gläser for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.
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Hessels, L.K., Franssen, T., Scholten, W. et al. Variation in Valuation: How Research Groups Accumulate Credibility in Four Epistemic Cultures. Minerva 57, 127–149 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-018-09366-x
- Epistemic culture