Career gatekeeping in cultural fields

  • Julian HamannEmail author
  • Stefan Beljean
Original Article


This paper presents a comparative analysis of career gatekeeping processes in two cultural fields. Drawing on data on appointment procedures in German academia and booking processes in North American stand-up comedy, we compare how gatekeepers in two widely different contexts evaluate and select candidates for established positions in their respective field and validate their decisions. Focusing on three types of gatekeeping practices that have been documented in prior research—typecasting, comparison, and legitimization—our analysis reveals major differences in how gatekeepers perform these practices across our two cases: (1) typecasting based on ascriptive categories versus professional criteria, (2) comparisons that are ad-hoc and holistic versus systematic and guided by performance criteria, and (3) legitimation by means of ritualization versus transparency. We argue that these differences are related to the social and organizational context in which gatekeepers make selection decisions, including differences in the structure of academic and creative careers and the organization of the respective labor markets in which these careers unfold. These findings contribute to scholarship on gatekeeping in cultural fields by providing comparative insights into the work of career gatekeepers and the social organization of career gatekeeping processes.


Gatekeeping Academia Comedy Typecasting Comparison Legitimation 



We thank Michèle Lamont, Matthew Clair, Désirée Waibel and the members of the ISF group in the Department of Sociology at Harvard for their comments on previous versions of this paper. We also would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editors of AJCS for their comments and suggestions. Research support from German Research Foundation (Project Number 254562991), and the Canada Program at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University is gratefully acknowledged. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2017 meeting of the American Sociological Association.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LCSS Leibniz Center for Science and SocietyLeibniz University HannoverHannoverGermany
  2. 2.Department of SociologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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