Sociology of Knowledge I: Institutional Structures in Academic Knowledge

Monday May 16 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)
Virtual Platform

Session Code: KNW2A
Session Format: Regular Session
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Sociology of Knowledge
Session Categories: Regular Session

How do the structures and processes of academia influence academic knowledge? Going back to Berger and Luckmann in the 1960s, the sociology of knowledge has grappled with the actions and processes that generate institutionalized forms of knowledge. This session explores how social structures influence the form and content of academic knowledge—how actors within institutions contribute to the conversion of experiences, observations, findings, and data into a shared, objective reality, and how that reality bends awareness toward particular notions of truth, actuality, and credibility. Tags: Feminism, Gender, Knowledge, Theory

Organizers: Lily Ivanova, University of British Columbia, Will Keats-Osborn, Independent scholar; Chairs: Lily Ivanova, University of British Columbia, Will Keats-Osborn, Independent scholar


Zohreh BayatRizi, University of Alberta; Reyhaneh Javadi, University of Alberta

The Privatization of Sociology in Iran in the 21st Century

This paper examines privatization of Iranian sociology in the 21st century by studying changes that have happened in teaching in the past two decades. The teaching of sociology in Iran has for a long time been constrained by political considerations and censorship as well as hiring policies that prioritize ideological over academic qualifications. Yet, beginning in the early twenty-first century, student associations began to react to the diminishing quality of their classroom education through collective protests and by organizing reading groups and book clubs that went above and beyond the official curriculum. However, over time, these extra-curricular classes morphed into private classes outside the university run by academic sociologists and intellectual figures who charge students for membership and participation. Thus, private, for-profit reading groups emerge, where sociology texts and methods are taught and discussed. To study this change in teaching sociology in Iran, our project uses a combination of qualitative sociological methods, including archival studies, document analysis and semi-structured interviews. First, it examines relevant documents, including journals and student magazines, contents of academic journals, and university policies with regard to faculty evaluation. It also contains semi-structured interviews with Iranian sociologists who play a role in teaching and research as well as graduate students who participate in private classes. To analyze the data, this paper uses a combination of document analysis and open and axial coding. Applying these methods, this paper studies the setting in which the current trends have emerged in Iranian sociology (including power relations within and outside academia, and its relation to financial as well as social and symbolic capital), and their implications for social sciences inside academia. It contends that these changes are significant enough to impact the field of sociology as a whole and deprive academic sociology in Iran of organic development. This paper has significance beyond Iranian sociology, as these changes have a significant global nature and resonate with larger trends in global sociology and neo-liberalization of higher education.  

Francois Lachapelle, University of British Columbia | Sciences Po

Predicting COVID-19 Preprint Manuscript's Publication Status: Scientific Impact, Social Attention, Gender, and Institutional Prestige

Early in the pandemic, preprint repositories emerged as a core component in the global scientific communication ecosystem. A preprint server is a website organized as an open-access repository of papers where researchers can upload manuscript documents for the timely dissemination of important findings to the scientific community. A scientific manuscript submitted to a server preprint can be posted and made available for the public in a matter of days after some form of human-led screening. The epistemic certification in the traditional peer-review system can take months, or years. Given the uncertified nature of the scientific manuscripts curated on preprint repositories, this ‘upload first, certify later’ practice is not without creating serious tensions. This is especially the case for biomedical knowledge since the dissemination of bad science can have widespread consequences for a host of health practitioners and social actors who changed their professional practices or/and behaviors based on scientific findings. In this paper, I explore what factors, including temporal, scholarly, gender, and status-based affect whether preprints are converted in peer publications. I address questions about the relationship between time, scientific impact, gender, institutional prestige, and preprint’s publication status using a metadata-enhanced version of the Upload-or-Publish (UoP) dataset. The dataset contains 16,244 COVID-19 preprints uploaded on arXiv, bioRxiv, and medRxiv digital repositories between January 2020 and early March 2021. I found that early scientific impact has one of the strongest positive effects on the chance of publishing. time is the only predictor that maintains an inverted-U relationship with the chances of converting a preprint into a journal article. I also found that institutional prestige matters for female authors. Junior and senior female scholars located in high-status universities stand at a much higher chance to convert their scientific labor when compare not only to lower-status senior female authors but all-male authors as well.

Anastasia Kulpa, University of Alberta and MacEwan University

Translation Between Textbook and Question - Test Bank Design and Sociological Understanding in Canada

Empirical evidence suggests that, more than teaching, assessment is the primary mechanism students use to define what they are expected to learn. Test questions and assignments, not objectives written on course outlines, convey to students what is important to understand in a discipline. There is, however, relatively little work exploring which elements of a discipline are translated into assessment, and how. This paper explores the way learning objectives and concepts in introductory sociology textbooks do and do not get translated into related test questions, drawing on the author’s experience of writing and revising test banks for several introductory sociology textbooks, and teaching introductory sociology. Certain types of understanding are relatively easy to examine in the context of a multiple-choice question, while others are substantially more difficult. Learning objectives are often written without a recognition of this possibility, and, occasionally, have an unclear relationship to the text of the book itself. In this environment, there is a potential for significant gaps between what faculty and students understand as sociological knowledge, not only in the expected sense of faculty being much more versed in the content, but also more ontologically about what defines sociological knowledge. For example, is the crux of “knowing” sociology defining concepts or applying them? How are such distinctions reflected in the questions students are asked? Of particular interest here is the presentation of sociological theory, where there is an especially significant gap between how sociologists employ concepts in their own work and writing, and how the important elements of these concepts are communicated to students in test questions and test banks.  

Will Keats-Osborn, Independent scholar; Lily Ivanova, University of British Columbia

Directed self-expression: Interviews and the interactive genesis of social knowledge

For many years, scholars have questioned how effectively interviews access the underlying reality of a research topic. Ann Swidler and Stephen Vaisey, for instance, have pointed out how discursive explanations for one’s actions appear to have a tenuous causal connection with the actions themselves. With this principle as a starting point, we aim to discover how data produced from an interview might be dominated by artifacts of the interview process itself. Borrowing from The Turnaround, an audio series about the “greatest living interviewers” of our time, we engage in a close examination of a series of interviews about interviews. Typically, an interviewer must manage a respondent’s production of material through charisma, timing, humour, commiseration, display of prior knowledge, and other strategies, leaving space for surprising or unexpected turns, while also structuring the interview enough to maintain control. A respondent, who might not yet have devised clear answers for the interviewer’s best questions, is thus prompted to structure their personal narrative in a way that responds to the interviewer’s need for material. Whatever transformations the researcher applies to render that material into knowledge (transcribing, coding, editing, or selecting quotes, for example) tend to reify the respondent’s answers into representations of a concrete, underlying reality, obscuring their origin in the momentary, unfolding circumstances of the interaction. Varying levels of understanding of this process of reification can be a sticking point in negotiations of power relations for interviewers and subjects themselves; we hope that a scholarly examination of this process can also provide a starting point for discussions of power and ethics in knowledge creation during qualitative research.