Scholars and Universities in the US-Field of Power. A Network-Analytical approach

Oliver Wieczorek


US Universities and the scholars therein are not only conducting research, but are giving advice to ministries, politicians, think tanks, companies and the media. Besides giving advice, a large number of scholars is also co-affiliated with the actors from the aforementioned societal domains and gain therefore additional access to actors relevant for policy making, including science policy. I assume that having access to the central actors with the ability to shape the science-policy debates is a neglected dimension of power in the domain of the sociology of science and accounts for the leading role of a small number of Universities within the United States. If this assumption holds true, universities affect science policy in such a way that cumulative advantages are generated only for a subset of actors taking influence (e.g. research areas funded by federal agencies). However, to take influence, access to the relevant government bodies (e.g. PCAST, expert committees in US-Departments, hearings) must be established and secured. The contribution at hand focuses on the prerequisites for gaining access to science policy. To do so, it utilizes Habitus-Fieldtheory, Social Network Theory and the Academic-Capitalism Approach to investigate network effects that enable scholars and universities to gain access to governmental bodies and to posit themselves in congress hearings relevant for the science policy debate. To do so, I scrutinize a mixed methods approach combining Social Network Analysis, Multiple Correspondence Analysis, Content Analysis and Count-Regression was used to unravel the effects on the different levels of analysis mentioned above. Furthermore, I introduce a network-measure to investigate the chances to gain access to crucial network positions (e.g. PCAST, expert panels in the Department of Energy) against competitors from the academic field or other societal domains. The empirical approach is subdivided into four major steps of investigation. In a first step, strategic papers and mission statements of universities were analyzed qualitatively in order to extract strategies for gaining access to the political field and bureaucratic field. Afterwards, these strategies were quantified using Multiple-Correspondence-Analysis. In a second step, over 9000 biographies of actors relevant for science policy during the Obama Administration and their affiliation to different organizations and network ecologies were collected. In a third step, the biographical data and affiliation data were pooled on the level of universities and matched with additional data provided by the National Science Foundation, US-News and World-Report Rankings and SCOPUS. In a fourth and final step, networks were constructed, a measure of access was developed and the preconditions for gaining access were tested using regression techniques. Findings indicate a predominant effect of the university’s ability to span network-ecologies. In addition to these effects, having the right “strategy” as seen in mission statements and strategic plans, access to think-tanks on campus, large endowments and a well-connected university administration prove to have a significant influence on the access to government bodies.



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