Three Studies in the Cultural Sociology of Science

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation is composed of three studies in the cultural sociology of science. The first chapter examines the accumulation of status within bioethics since 1990. Bioethics is important because it has life and death consequences across public policy, medical research, and the civil sphere. Despite several studies tracing the evolution of the field and possible ways that sociologists might intervene, less information exists about how status is accumulated within this relatively new field. I focus in Chapter One on how the categorization practices that authors use to position their paper within existing literature impact paper success, and I do so using data collected from the Web of Science. A series of negative binomial regression models produce a few key findings. Despite historical accounts that argue the institutional infrastructure of bioethics was largely in place by the early 1990s, results suggest that the social structure of the discipline continued to develop into the 2000s. Further, both the type of keywords used and the way in which authors couple certain keywords exhibit a positive statistically significant relationship with the number of citations a bioethics text is expected to receive.

Chapter Two retains an emphasis on bioethics but shifts focus to a consideration of the field’s conceptual structure during the same period. As an organized field, bioethics is relatively young; it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that bioethics had a real organizational base and became recognizable as something other than a set of debates between scholars firmly rooted in disparate fields, such as philosophy and medicine. In this chapter, I analyze with structural topic models a set of bioethics abstracts taken from the Web of Science. I find that there are roughly 70 topics within this corpus and that there are statistically significant relationships between the amount of attention that topics receive and publication year, whether an author of a text is based in a hospital or medical center, proportion of authors who are female, and the number of citations that a text receives.I conclude by noting the theoretical importance of these findings as well as methodological limitations that might be addressed in future research.

Chapter Three departs markedly in terms of substance, focusing on the social thought of Gabriel Tarde, yet it fits together with Chapter Two in that it proposes a new theoretical method for analyzing scholars’ works. Gabriel Tarde’s social theory is receiving a considerable amount of renewed attention. While this emerging literature covers myriad domains, a detailed examination of the conceptual structure of Tarde’s thought remains to be undertaken. I subject Tarde’s social theory to a recently developed approach within cognitive sociology—Sociological Idea Analysis. This approach is founded upon the insight that abstract theorizing is grounded in schematic patterns emerging from corporeal experience. I first summarize Tarde’s approach to social life and then highlight the different image schemas underlying his social theory. I conclude by noting how, in bringing Sociological Idea Analysis to bear upon individual thinkers, one may advance the new sociology of ideas, research on scientific/intellectual movements, and field theory.


Attribute NameValues
Author Brandon Sepulvado
Contributor David S. Hachen, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
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Defense Date
  • 2019-09-04

Submission Date 2019-12-02
Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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