The American Sociologist

, Volume 48, Issue 3–4, pp 453–475 | Cite as

A Prophet in his Hometown? the Academic Reception of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” Across Disciplines in France and in the United States

  • Sacha Raoult
  • Brendan Leonard
  • Arnaud Derbey


This article analyzes the reception of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the twenty-first century” from September 2013 to June 2015 in France, where it was first released, and in the United States, by academics who come from a variety of disciplines. We discuss the “spontaneous sociology” offered by some of the actors of this reception and analyze, using their remarks as a starting point, the major predictors of the content of an academic review of Piketty. Our results highlight the strong effect of passing time on the content of the reviews – three clear phases can be identified in the reception of the book showing a “proteus effect” pattern. They also emphasize the importance of understanding how academic disciplines structure the debate – much more so than the country of residence. In fact, most of the opinions academics express on Piketty’s book are tied to their departmental affiliations. We look at how this link articulates the intellectual structures of the disciplines with field theory. Our results suggest a strong autonomy of the social scientific field from more general public concerns.


Field theory Academic disciplines Science studies Inequality 



We would like to acknowledge the following people for their help and advice: Bernard Harcourt, Wojciech Kopczuk, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Todd, Sage Gerson. We would also like to thank Scott Morton from Nielson Book Research for his help in obtaining sales data. A special thanks goes to Mia Ruyter for suggesting this research avenue two years ago.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LDPSC EA4690, Lames UMR 7305Aix-Marseille UniversityMarseilleFrance
  2. 2.IBM Watson HealthCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.LDPSC EA4690Aix-Marseille UniversityMarseilleFrance

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