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Annual Reviews

Ann~Rev. Sociol. 1994. 20:305-29

Copyright © 1994 by Annual Reviews lnc, All rights reserved


Ann Swidler and YorgeArditi
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of Sociology,Universityof California, Berkeley,California 94720

KEYWORDS: culture, literacy, authoritative knowledge, classification and boundaries,

culture-producing institutions

The new sociology of knowledgeexamines how kinds of social organization
make whole orderings of knowledgepossible, rather than focussing on the
differing social locations and interests of individuals or groups. The review
begins with the effects on knowledgeof the media through which it is pre-
served, organized, and transmitted. Wethen analyze collective memory,ex-
aminlng social conditions that shape howknowledgeis transmitted through
time. The review then e×arnines howpatterns of authority located in organi-
zations shape both the content and structure of knowledge, looking at how
authority affects the scope, generality, and authoritativeness of knowledge.We
then review recent work on howsocial power, particularly that embodiedin
institutional practices, shapes knowledge. Weexaminehowknowledgerein-
forces social hierarchies and howthe boundaries and categories of systems of
knowledge are constituted. Looking at power, gender, and knowledge, we
discuss newversions of the standpoint theories that characterizedthe traditional
sociology of knowledge,l~inally, we briefly review recent work on informal


The older sociology of knowledge epitomized by Mannheimasked how the

social location of individuals and groups shapes their knowledge.Elementsof
this tradition becameinstitutionalized in sociology and political science as
attitude and opinion research. The sociology of knowledgeproper, however,
concernedwith the social sources of knowledgeand political ideologies, fell
out of favor. Mannheim’swork has continued to inspire current scholarship
Annual Reviews


("The Problemof Generations" [ 1952(1928)] as stimulus for Wuthnow [ 1976]

or Schuman&Scott [1989]), but the tradition has comeunder criticism. Its
imageof the relationship of knowledgeand social position seems reductionist
(Geertz 1983:152-3), and it has too thin a conception both of knowledgeand
of the social positions or interests that affect knowledge.
Recentlysociologists interested in culture, religion, science, and ideology,
along with scholars in social history, philosophy,anthropology,and the history
of science, havebegunto revitalize the field. Theexpansionof cultural studies
throughoutthe social sciences has also greatly enriched the materials a soci-
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ologist of knowledgehas to work with. Whilethere is as yet no unified field,

manydiverse strands of theory and research have begunto crystallize around
Changes in the phenomena encompassed by the term "knowledge" are
symptomaticof changes in the field. The traditional sociology of knowledge
focussed on formal systems of ideas, concentrating especially on such matters
as the world-viewsand politics of intellectuals. (This reviewlargely neglects
the sociology of intellectuals, though we note the lively debates about the
interests and social locations of contemporary intellectuals Ehrenreich &
Ehrenreich 1977, Gouldner1979, Eyermanet a11987, Szelenyi &Martin 1988,
Brint 1994). The search for social interests that bias even supposedlyneutral,
disinterested, objective understanding of the world what the very term
"knowledge"connoted was central to the agenda of the field.
Newerwork in sociology and cultural studies suggests that formal systems
of ideas are linked to broader cultural patterns--what we might think of as
social consciousness. Wefocus not only on the ideas developed by knowledge
specialists, but also on structures of knowledgeor consciousness that shape
the thinking of laypersons. Wedo not, however,attempt to cover all aspects
of culture. The sociology of culture has focussed largely on works of art and
entertainment. In cultural studies, culture connotes symbolicsystems that are
deeply embedded,taken-for-granted, often enduring, and sometimesinvisible.
The sociology of knowledgeinstead directs attention to cultural elements that
are moreconscious, moreexplicitly linked to specific institutional arenas, and
morehistorically variable.
The new sociology of knowledgeexamineshowkinds of social organization
makewholeorderings of knowledgepossible, rather than focussing in the first
instance on the differing social locations and interests of individuals or groups.
It examinespolitical and religious ideologies as well as science and everyday
life, cultural and organizational discourses along with formal and informal
types of knowledge.It also expandsthe field of study from an examinationof
the contents of knowledgeto the investigation of forms and practices of
This review begins with a fundamental factor that shapes the ways knowl-
Annual Reviews


edge can be structured--the media through which knowledge is preserved,

organized, and transmitted. It then rams to the analysis of collective memory,
examiningsocial conditions that shape howknowledgeis transmitted through
time. The review then examineshowpatterns of authority located in organi-
zations shape both the content and structure of knowledge.Webring together
workon howforms of authority affect the scope, generality, and authoritative-
ness of knowledge.Wethen review recent work on howsocial power, partic-
ularly that embodiedin institutional practices, shapes knowledge.In the next
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section, we examinehowknowledgereinforces social hierarchies and howthe

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boundaries and categories that define the basic terms of systems of knowledge
are constituted. Lookingat the recent literature on power, gender, and knowl-
edge, we discuss revitalized versions of the standpoint theories that character-
ized the traditional sociology of knowledge, exploring hownew approaches
deepen the understanding of what a social standpoint involves. Finally, we
turn briefly to recent work on informal knowledge, that knowledgeordinary
people develop to deal with their everyday lives.


Perhaps the most dramatic example of howsocial factors affect the basic
structure of knowledge is what Goody& Watt (1963) called "The Conse-
quences of Literacy." Historians, anthropologists, and psychologists have ex-
amined howthe introduction of new media for the recording, transmission,
and cumulation of knowledgechanges knowledgeitself. Walter Ong (1971,
1977, 1982), in a set of sweepingarguments, has contrasted the organization
of literate and oral cultures, arguing that the mediain whichwordsare trans-
mitted have repeatedly transformed consciousness.
Others (Olson 1977, Goody1986, Graff 1987, Finnegan 1988) have drawn
the contrast betweenorality and literacy less starkly. Akinnaso(1992) notes
the presence of both formal and informal learning in literate and nonliterate
societies, showingthat formal learning can create intellectually disciplined,
specialized, decontextualized knowledgeeven in nonliterate societies. Ewald
(1988), arguing that writing conveysauthority only whenstate powerprivi-
leges it (Clanchy 1979), examinesthe fascinating case of an African kingdom
whoserulers actively resisted writing in order to maintainthe flexibility and
ambiguity of the gift exchanges on which their powerdepended.
Eisenstein (1969, 1979) has argued that print, which multiplied and thus
preservedidentical copies of texts, decisively transformedthe shape of schol-
arly knowledge:corrected texts could be assembledand replicated, freed from
the inevitable corruptions of scribal transmission; rediscoveredtexts could be
permanentlyrather than only temporarily recovered; authorship of texts could
be established; texts and authors could be placed in a firm historical sequence;
Annual Reviews


and knowledgecould be redefined as cumulative progress, rather than as

inevitable decay from a pristine past. MarcBloch (196111940])vividly de-
scribes howfeudal elites, often dependenton oral transmission of knowledge,
jumbled chronologies and unwittingly assimilated new practices into an ap-
parently unchangingtradition.
Becauseliteracy and especially print so profoundly altered both knowledge
and knowing, the early-modern period has proven particularly fruitful for
study. Eisenstein (1969) notes that the first effect of print wasto give a new
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lease on life to medievalbooks, creating a flood of texts of mixedprovenance.

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Mukerji(1983) traces the influence of printed objects, from pictorial prints

printed mapsand books, on materialism in Europeanculture. She argues that
print stimulated both production and consumptionand that ways of appropri-
ating printed booksbecamea metaphorfor scientific exploration of the natural
Print culture infused by ~ still vigorous oral tradition appears to have a
special vitality (Bakhtin 1984, Thompson1963, Levine 1977). Ginzburg
(1980) offers a remarkableaccount of howliterate and oral cultures interacted
when print made the richly fabulous world of medieval books more widely
available and reading began to give ordinary people confidence in their own
ideas. People whoread very few books read them in a radically different way
than modernreaders do, elaborating particular passages out of coatext and
filtering what they read throughthe screen of oral culture.
Historically specific modes of reading have been explored by numerous
scholars. Damton(1984:215-56)describes the intimate, passionate reading
prerevolutionary French readers. Grafton (1991, 1992) has analyzed the read-
ing practices of scholars in earlier eras, while other historians (Chattier 1987,
1989, Vincent 1989, McKitterick 1990) have explored print and reading in
both popular and elite contexts.
Marshall McLuhan (1962, 1964) speculated that television wouldagain alter
humanconsciousness as print had done, creating instantaneous, immediate,
globally shared communication. But the effects of new media on knowledge
remain unclear despite decades of mass communicationsresearch, perhaps
because formal knowledge remains bound by print and reading even while
popular knowledgeis increasingly visual, multi-channeled, and interactive. We
do not yet knowwhether and how the computer revolution will alter formal
knowledge,perhaps eventually supplanting the bookand undoing the "fixity"
Eisenstein attributed to print.


Studies of collective (Halbwachs1980 [1950]) or social (Fentress &Wickham

1992) memoryask howsocial groups retain, alter, or reappropriate social
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knowledge. This work has developed in two important directions. First, re-
searchers have shownthat muchpresumedtradition is in fact "invented" to
serve current social purposes (Hobsbawm& Ranger 1983, Wilford 1990),
especially defining nations and the character of national communities(Ander-
son 1983, Schwartz 1987, Hobsbawm1990, Kammen1991). Students of the
French revolution have shownhownew traditions and rituals helped create
new political realities (Hunt 1984) and, less charitably, howmemoriessuch
as that of the storming of the Bastille (Schama1989) wer~ concocted
political entrepreneurs. Onthe other hand, Schwartz (1991:234) has empha-
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sized how,in shaping the present, memoriesof the past provide "a stable image
upon which new elements are superimposed."
The second important line of research on collective memoryinvolves sys-
tematic analysis of the factors that lead events or objects to be retained or lost
as part of the stream of collective memory.Schudson(1992) has carefully
analyzed howWatergate entered and influenced collective memory.Using ~he
image of culture as a repertoire or repository ($widler 1986), he asks why
somethings are retained and others forgotten. He notes that events are more
likely to be rememberedif they happenedduring one’s lifetime, if they are
commemorated,if they touched people personally, and if they concern the
public center of national life, as Watergatedid. He also notes that events may
be rememberedindirectly (as when new scandals are dubbed" gate")
institutionally (whennewrules or procedures, like that of the "special prose-
cutor" are created). Schudson(1989:175) has systematized arguments about
the powerof culture, arguing that "a cultural object is morepowerfulthe more
it is within reach, the moreit is rhetorically effective, the moreit resonates
with existing opinions and structures ... the morethoroughlyit is retained in
institutions, and the morehighly resolved it is towardaction."
Interest in the uses and practical determinants of cultural memorycome
together in the study of literary or artistic canons--whatis preservedas part
of a cultural heritage. Escarpit’s (1971) brilliant workmadeclear that "exter-
nal" factors as well as the qualities of aesthetic worksthemselvesaffect what
will be retained in the culture. Hedemonstratedthat political upheavalsstrong-
ly influenced whether works entered the French literary canon, and that
whether a book was likely to be preserved as a "great work" depended on
whether its author was part of a cohort youngenough to keep the workalive
until a new generation could rediscover it. Lang&Lang(1990), in an analysis
of the reputations of English etchers, point out that survivors whopreserve,
catalog, and promotean artist’s workgreatly increase its chances for renown.
Barbara Hermstein Smith (1983) argues somewhatpolemically that what
enters the literary canon dependson the interests of those whocontrol it.
Tompkins(1985) has shown how Hawthorne’s work was systematically pro-
moted by those whose status claims he embodied, and Tuchman& Fortin
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3~0 S~D~R&ARD~

(1984) have examinedthe effects of gender on literary reputation. Haskell

(1976) for art and Griswold(1986) for theater have examinedsocial conditions
that lead to revivals or rediscoveries of objects fromthe artistic corpus. Gds-
wold’s systematic exploration of whyspecific genres of English renaissance
plays resonated with the social dilemmasof later centuries is echoed in
Schwartzet al’s (1986) analysis of the revival of Masadain Jewish collective
Hareven (1979) has suggested that basic demographic structurenwhether
children have living parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents to pass on
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firsthand accountsof the past--will affect the possibilities of historical mem-

ory. HowardSchumanand collaborators (Schuman & Scott 1989, Schuman
& Rieger 1992a,b) have used open-ended survey questions about important
events and changes during the past 50 years to explore relationships between
generation and the events that stand out in memory (they find that adolescence
and early adulthoodare a formative period for historical memory,as Mannheim
[1952 (1928)] hypothesized) and between such memoriesand other attitudes.
While the factors shaping collective memoryhave been most clearly spec-
ified for art worlds, others have examinedhoworganizations preserve and
retrieve memory(Powel11986)and howwhole societies remember(Connerton
1989).Thesestudies raise the tantalizing possibility that similar research could
be done on knowledge more narrowly conceived, asking how structural or
institutional factors influence which work by philosophers, economists, or
physicists will be disseminated, preserved, or madecanonical.


Newmodelsof howsocial organization influences ideas are at the heart of the
new sociology of knowledge. A major pioneer has been David Zaret (1985,
1989, 1991, 1992). The Heavenly Contract (1985) argued that theological
change in English Puritanism derived from organizational "pressures" and
intellectual "precedents." Challengesto the authority of Puritan clerics led
them to develop "covenant theology" which refocussed ministers’ authority
on helping laypersons monitor their inner lives rather than on seeking radical
reforms which wouldput Puritan clerics in open conflict with the Anglican
church. Covenanttheology madesalvation a predictable outcomeof a covenant
between Godand man. It drew on intellectual precedents, such as widespread
knowledgeof the mutual obligations commercialcontracts entailed, to make
its ideas plausible to lay listeners.
Zaret (1989, 1991, 1992)extends these ideas, arguing that liberal-democratic
ideology emergedin seventeenth-century Englandas "a collective response to
the problemof contested authority" (1989:165), Sectarian conflict and reli-
giously inspired radicalism following the triumph of Puritanism in the English
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Civil Warprovidedthe "episodiccontext"that bore upon"ideologicalproduc-

ers." Liberalideologysubstitutedreligious toleration for efforts to build a
"GodlyCommonwealth" and natural religion for sectarian doctrinal commit-
ments. Zaret showsalso that the English proponentsof liberal-democratic
theoryandof natural religion wereloosely linked by "networksof friendship,
patronage, and formal organizations" and that they shared "access to the
intellectual precedentsfor the newideology"(p. 65).
Afocuson problems of authorityin contextsthat directly affect ideological
producerscontains the seedsof a powerful,general approachto the sociology
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of knowledge. Totake authorityfirst: It seemsreasonableto believethat the

authoritativenessof knowledge is grounded in patterns of social authority. To
haveauthoritative knowledge is to havean institution, group,or personwhich
can settle disputes and establish truth. Swidler(1979:118-30) observedthat
alternative schoolsthat renouncedauthority hadto dispensewith right and
wronganswersto intellectual questions.Arditi (1994)has traced broadtrans-
formationsin theories of mannersin eighteenth-centuryEnglandto a shift in
the structure of authority withinwhichsocial elites operated. Walzer(1973)
noted that sixteenth-centuryEnglishPuritanismappealedto "sociologically
competent"elites anxiousabout challengesto their authority. Martin(1993)
speculatesthat the authoritativenessof any belief systemdependsultimately
on the authorityof personsandthat a group’sauthoritystructure affects its
Thepost-Kuhnian (1970)sociologyof science, particularly comparisons
organizationalpractices across academic disciplines, suggeststhat the coher-
enceof intellectual "paradigms" is related (whetheras causeor effect) to the
extentof hierarchyandcoordination in the social organizationof variousfields
(Lodahl& Gordon1972, Hargens1988, Levitt &Nass 1989, Konrad&Pfeffer
1990). Indeed, Crane(1976) and Kuhn(1969) havesuggestedthat what
tinguishessciencefromother cultural enterprisessuchas art or religion is its
institutional autonomy,andparticularly its relatively autonomous control over
its ownrewardsystem,in contrast to the dependence of the arts andreligion
on lay audiencesand powerfulpatrons. Wuthnow (1987, 1989)has emphasized
that the growingauthoritativenessof seventeenth-andeighteenth-century sci-
ence dependedon its acquiring a single, secure sourceof patronagein the
Whilethis is not the place to reviewthe broad spectrumof workin the
sociologyof science, newresearchon scientific practice andscientific work
organization (Knorr-Cetina1981, Latour &Woolgar1979, Latour 1987) be-
gins to link substantive features of scientific knowledge to scientific work
organization. Gerson(1993), for example,has analyzedthe organizational
dynamicsinvolvedin the "segmentation,""intersection," and "legitimation"
of lines of scientific work. Gumport(1990, 1991), examiningthe case
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feminist scholarship, explores hownew academicfields are created and legit-

imated. Star (1989) analyzes the basis for the simultaneous "plasticity" and
"coherence"of scientific theories. "Successfulscientific theories reflect com-
mitmentsto work practices that are not easily changed. This does not occur
as the result of someself-propelling quality of ideas, but rather as the conse-
quence of commitmentsto training programs, technologies, standards, and
vocabularies [whichare] difficult to disentangle or dismantle" (p. 22).
Theselines of workin the sociology of science convergewith workby Zaret
and others to suggest that knowledgederives manyof its features from the
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way it organizes knowledge-producingcommunities. Star (1989:116) asks how

scientific knowledgecoheres without a central authority, observing that mul-
tiple, localized practices and findings are "joined across sites and ... trans-
formedto certainty at larger scales of organization." While Star, Latour &
Woolgar,and others observethat the actual practices of scientific laboratories
are highly local and that they undergoextreme simplification and reification
before they are constituted as scientific fact, this picture of a localized, nego-
tiated order must be balanced against the forces promotinghierarchy and order
within scientific communities. The unequal distribution of academicrewards
such as employment,career mobility, salaries, fellowships, and prestige mean
that even though scientific communitieslack unified authority, their basic
social organization forces themto act as if someideas are better than others,
someproblemsand problemsolutions moreimportant then others, and so forth.
Thus the manufacture of scientific certainty maywell be a product of such
central activities as departmentsdeciding whomto hire, fellowship committees
assessing research proposals, and youngscientists seeking groundsfor select-
ing problems. A unifying hierarchy amongideas is built into the structures
that allocate academicrewards, even while local variations in the routines that
organize scientific workmakedissensus both possible and invisible.
The theoretical focus on authority relations is just one exampleof a broader
movementin the sociology of knowledge toward attention to the specific
organizational contexts in which knowledgeproducers work. Robert Darnton’s
work on The Business of Enlightenment (1979) and on the consequences
royal censorship in Old RegimeFrance (1982) demonstrates howthe contexts
in which culture is producedand distributed affect its intellectual content.
Important workin the sociology of religion (Butler 1990, Finke &Stark 1992,
Warner1993) provides evidence that, at least for America,religious partici-
pation maybe better explained by "supply"--that is, what religious providers
offer--than by "demand"--that is, independent changes in religious needs or
The "production of culture" perspective 0aeterson 1976), developedin the
study of the arts, is nowbearing fruit in the general sociology of knowledge.
Wuthnow’s(1989) ambitious work suggests that broad economicchanges and
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changesin class structure influence ideas throughthe institutions that organize

culture production. For example, political bodies independent of traditional
landowningclasses incubated and defended Reformationreforms (pp. 81-82);
state patronage created the public sphere which was the seedbed of Enlight-
enment thought; and European socialism was more successful where liberal
parties were too weakto competefor workingclass support. Critics (Calhoun
1992, Gould1992) have challenged some of Wutlmow’shistorical arguments,
but his workis pathbreaking in two respects: first, he distinguishes several
stages in the process by which any new ideology emerges: "processes of
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ideological production, of selection amongcompetingideologies, and of in-

stitutionalization" (p. 538). Second,Communitiesof Discourselinks the insti-
tutional settings of knowledgeproduction to the content and form of bodies
of ideas.
An intriguing question is what institutional supports makeplausible the
authoritative, universal rationality characteristic of modem thought. Both Web-
er (1958 [190~-1905]) and Durkheim(1965 [1912]) explored this question.
Weberargued that Calvinism spurred rationalization in all spheres of life,
including modemscience (Merton 1970 [1929], Cohen1990). Durkheimar-
gued that the developmentof an increasingly universal world society madeit
possible for ideas to take universal form, to claim a universalized truth.
Wuthnow’s(1989) analysis of Enlightenment discourse gives empirical
substance to such a Durkheimianclaim by suggesting that the "dispersed,
overlapping, yet segmentedcharacter of social relations" (p. 320) in the eigh-
teenth-century public sphere contributed to distancing public roles from per-
sonal lives for Enlightenmentfigures and also to emphasizinguniversal argu-
mentand abstract generalization (pp. 342-343ff). Universalismalso "fit well
with the increasing levels of communication,trade, and diplomacythat were
creating a stronger sense amongeducated elites of Europe as a single, or
potentially single cultural zone" (p. 343). Zaret (1989) makesclear that
shrining rationality as the objective ground of public debate was part of an
effort to transcend divisive religious and political conflict. As Wuthnow (1989:
343) puts it: "In trumpetingthe general over the particular, writers from Locke
to Rousseauwere directing strong criticism at the parochial passions that had
caused muchof the seventeenth century to be dominated by war and were
siding with the voice of tolerance and peace."
Recent work on global culture also suggests reappropdating Merton’s
(1957) distinction between locals and cosmopolitans (Hannerz 1990). Scat-
tered evidence suggests that those whomust regularly deal with an imperso-
nal, distant cultural world organized by abstract principles such as
individualism or rationality construct knowledgedifferently than do those
located socially and intellectually in moreparochial settings (see Lerner 1958,
Horton 1971, Bernstein 1975, Roof 1978, Hewitt 1989). Deemphasizinglocal
Annual Reviews


or regional variations, Benavot et al (1991) stress increasing global

strandardization, pointingout that modernnation states, despite differing
internal needsanddifferent histories, havetendedto adoptsimilar educational
Several scholars (Moore1966,Meyer1980,Thomas et al 1987,Featherstone
1990)discuss the intellectual consequencesof a global culture. Robertson
(1992)sketchesthe concretehistorical turning points in the formationof
global culture, such as the creation of global competitions(Nobelprizes, the
Olympics),agreementon worldtime, and the near-universaladoption of the
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Gregorian calendar.Theseinternationalintellectual agreements in effect insti-

tutionalize and makereal the universal authority of the rational to which
Durkheim referred (and indeed Durkbeim wrote during the period [1870-1920]
in which,accordingto Robertson,these importantelementsof a global culture
wereinstitutionalized). If wetake for grantedthat a minuteis really a minute,
or a meter a meter, or that wereally can knowwhattime it is in Tokyoor
AddisAbaba,the apparent objectivity of the worldweinhabit rests on an


Thecontemporarysociology of knowledgehas been deeply concernedwith

power(Ortner 1984, Lamont& Wuthnow 1990), especially the workof Michel
Foucault.Despitedifficulties in interpreting Foucault’swork,his fundamental
insights maybe put simply:First, historical eras differ not onlyin whatpeople
think, but in what is thinkable. Foucault(1973) has written of changes
"epistemes"--notsimplysystemsof classification, but the logic in terms of
whichthese classifications are constructed.Differentepistemesare character-
ized by discrete rules of separation and associationamongthingsmsimilarity
throughresemblance in the classical age andby causal associationin the age
of reason. Second,for Foucault (1965, 1977, 1980), poweris embodied
practices or techniqueswhichhavetheir ownhistories (Mann1986).Foucault’s
"genealogical"methodtraces historical transformationsin techniquesof pow-
er, rather than seekingcausal links betweenformsof powerand other social
Third, for Foucault(1977, 1978,1980), techniquesof powerare also, si-
multaneously,formsof knowledge.So, for example,the monasticpractice of
confessionmadereal correspondingformsof knowledge,such as the varieties
of sin or techniquesfor recognizingand recountingthese, just as the ability
of asylumsto confineandsegregatethe mentallyill enact psychiatric knowl-
edgeof diagnosis and cure. Studies of such institutions as prisons, mental
hospitals, or clinics showhowinstitutional practices makecategoriesof knowl-
edgereal. "Dividingpractices" such as those of modern psychiatrydefine the
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characteristics by whichthe normalmaybe recognizedand separatedfromthe

"deviant";practicesof "objectification,"suchas the academic disciplines, turn
aspects of humanlife into objects of analysis; andother practices, such as
psychotherapy or self-labeling, create "subjects" whodefine andcategorize
Newforms of knowledge also create newsites wherepowercan be applied
(and whereresistance can form). Only,for example,whenindividualsare seen
as endowed with complex,interiorized psychescan a battle ensueover whether
to liberate or repress unconscious drives.
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It has nowbecomealmost commonplace to argue that newcategories of

personsare createdhistorically (see Hacking1986).Foucault’s arguments have
stimulatedvaried workon howinstitutional practices groundsystemsof knowl-
edge. For example,the modem state’s needto define andcontrol populations
led to newstatistical techniquesandnewwaysof categorizingpersons(Hack-
ing 1982, Rabinow1989, Woolf1989). Hacking(1990) has traced the con-
catenationof intellectual andpractical problems--the use of mortalitydata to
calculateprofits fromgovernment sale of annuitiesor the use of social statistics
to characterize nations--whichby the nineteenthcentury had transformeda
causallydeterministworldinto a probabilistic one.
Theacademicdisciplines havecomeunderscrutiny for the waystheir basic
theories and methodsreflect larger structures of power(MacKenzie 1981).
Talal Asad(19"/3) has egploredhowthe British empire’spractice of indirect
rule led British anthropologyto discoverautonomous traditions and stable,
functionalinstitutions among native peoples.(Wenote that the Frenchpractice
of direct rule, with its project of makingnatives into Frenchmen, led French
anthropology to be preoccupied withthe structure, andparticularlythe capacity
for rationality, of "prmifivethought.") Alongwith others (Clifford &Marcus
1986),Asad(1986)has arguedthat the basic intellectual andmethodological
presuppositionsof anthropologyare permeatedby the unequalpowerof col-
onizer and colonized.
Variationin the authoritativenessandcentrality of knowledge across soci-
eties raises broadtheoreticalissues in the sociologyof knowledge. Particularly
fascinating is the contrast betweenFrance,on the onehand, and Englandand
the UnitedStates, on the other. First, onecan notethat Bourdieu andFoucault,
the contemporary theorists whohavedrawnthe strongest links betweenknowl-
edgeand power,are both French. Their workseemsto resonate with that of
their French forebear, Durkheim,in stressing the overwhelming powerof
society vis ~t vis its members. Second,as MieheleLarnont(1987)has pointed
out in examiningthe career of JacquesDen-lda, intellectuals havea more
central cultural role andplayto a broaderpublicthan doacademic intellectuals
in the UnitedStates. In a fascinatingstudy, Priscilla Clark(1987)pointsto the
distinctivenessof Frenchliterary culture, the central role intellectuals playin
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Frenchlife, and someof the infrastructure, such as governmentpatronage, that

supports French writers (see Clark &Clark 1977).
Thereare persistent differences in the intellectual directions of Frenchversus
Anglo-Americanintellectual life (see Wuthnow 1989). Enlightenment skepti-
cism took an abstract, radical form in France while remaining staunchly em-
piricist in England(Krieger 1970). Payer (1988) offers rich anecdotal evidence
that contemporaryFrench medical research and practice privilege theory over
empirical findings, while British physicians accept only the most narrowly
drawn empirical claims. Lamont (1992) finds that membersof the French
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middle class makemuchsharper and more hierarchical cultural distinctions

Annu. Rev. Sociol. 1994.20:305-329. Downloaded from

than equivalent Americansdo.

A focus on institutional authority can account for both the intellectual
predilections and the relative centrality of French versus Anglo-American
intellectual cultures. Onecan begin by noting the very different histories of
the core institutions that supported knowledgeproduction in France versus
those in England. The AcademieFrancaise, founded in 1635, was the first of
several academiesestablished by the French state to enhance French science
and culture. Its eight members(shortly expandedto forty), "Les Immortels,"
were appointed for life and received substantial stipends. Their primary task
was to formalize the rules of the French language, to maintain its "purity,"
and to develop it for the arts and the sciences. The Academicawardedliterary
prizes and directed the flow of other governmentsinecures, thus guaranteeing
that elite approval of literary workwouldprovide financial rewards even in
the face of commercial failure. The Pads Academyof Sciences, founded in
1666, had fifteen memberswhogave scientific advice to the royal adminis-
tration, becoming"France’s acknowledgedarbiter of scientific and technolog-
ical activity" (Hahn1971:21).
The Royal Society of London, chartered by the British Crownin 1662,
received no royal financial support and thus becamea prestigious gathering
of leisured gentlemen whoconducted experiments and shared the results of
their scientific work. Thus intellectual authority in England was based on
shared observation and mutual exchange of ideas amonga cultivated elite,
while in France knowledgewas groundedin a hierarchical system of intellec-
tual authority.
It is instructive to contrast the histories of the first great national dictionades
produced in France versus those in England. The French Academy’sforty
membersimmediately set about producing an authoritative dictionary of the
French language, beginning the work in 1639 and completing it in 1694. A
major English dictionary waited a hundred years until SamuelJohnson, be-
tween 1746 and 1755, sponsored by a group of commercial publishers who
sold subscriptions to finance the venture, single-handedlywrote his Dictionary
of the English Language,aided only by a few helpers paid from his ownpocket
Annual Reviews


and by friends wholoaned the manybooksfrom whichhe extracted illustrative

quotations (Bate 1975:240-60). Thus even in its conception of language,
Frenchpractice created an authoritative codification of "pure" French, while
Johnson’s English dictionary offered an individual rendition of the best English
Progress in the new sociology of knowledgehas comeespecially from what
we might call the "middle"level of analysis. Focussingneither on large-scale
forces like class or the capitalist economy,nor on influences such as the
intellectual milieu or interests of individual actors, recent theoretical and em-
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pirical workhas explored howauthority, power, and practices within institu-

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tions shape knowledge.


Theconcern withpower hastaken a second formintheworkofPierre Bourdieu

andhiscollaborators. Bourdicu(1988) hastumcdhispowerful anthropologist’s
eyeonthepractices thatdefine prestige andmaintain powerwithin hisown
academicmilieuaswellasonthecultural strategies ofAlgcrlans(1977) and
ofthcFrench (1984). Reminiscentof Wcber’s (1968[1920])analysis ofstatus
groupcompetition(Collins 1975), Bourdicu (1984,Bourdieu & Passcron1977)
hasexamined howstatusgroupsbenefit fromhavingtheknowledge they
posscssdcfincd asvalued or legitimate knowledge.
Bourdieu’s workc×tcnds thesociology of knowledge in several rcspects
(dcspitc somecriticisms of hisempirical claims--Lamont& Larrcau 1988,
Licbcrson 1992:6-7). First,through hisconcept of the"habitus," Bourdicu
(1977,1984)treats formal, academic knowledge as similar to otherkinds
socialknowlcdgcmlcss knowledgc of thcworldthanknowlcdgc of howto
operatewithin it.Heextends social knowledge moredeeply intotheperson,
c×amininglearned habits ofusingandinhabiting space, thebody,andtime.
By focussingon "practice" (Bourdieu 1977,Bourdicu & Wacquant 1992),
treatsknowledge, including thevaluedknowledge of academia or of the
elite, asanembodied setofskills andhabits thatpeople usewithmore
or lessdc×tcrity toachieve strategic advantage. Butthatsameknowledge
rcproduccsthelarger systemofsocial distinctionsandsocial hierarchieswithin
whosetermspeople actively maneuver.
At thesametime,Bourdicu (1969, sccRinger 1990)hasargued thatall
knowledgeislocated within larger "intellectualfields"sothatthemeaning of
knowledge dependsonitsrelation to thefieldas a whole. Thus"orthodox"
and"heterodox" positions existinrelation toa fieldof intellectual power
are,inturn, embeddedinlarger "culturalfields";
bothorthodox andheterodox positions sharetaken-for-granted "doxa."
In Distinction(1984), Bourdicu examines theinternalized "taste" people
Annual Reviews


from different social milieus use to makesocial and cultural distinctions. Like
Meyer(1977), Bourdieu emphasizes the larger lessons conveyedby a hierar-
chical, stratified systemof education, rather than simplythe relatively advan-
taged or disadvantagedposition of particular social groups within it. Class or
status group advantage, captured by Bourdieu’s(1984) term "cultural capital,"
is not simply accumulatedcultural expertise. Rather, like economiccapital,
cultural capital includes the taste, confidence, and familiarity that allows the
culturally advantagedto reap a higher return on cultural investments than do
those whobegin with less.
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Annu. Rev. Sociol. 1994.20:305-329. Downloaded from

In a brilliant Americanization of Bourdieu’s arguments, DiMaggio(1987)

examinesthe source of distinctions amongartistic genres. He argues that social
groups invent and maintain boundedcultural genres in order to communicate
status group membershipin face-to-face interaction (Collins 1981). DiMaggio
(1992) has analyzed the historical process of creating "institutions with the
powerto establish authoritatively the value of different forms of culture: in
effect to create and to defend the boundariesamongvarying kinds of aesthetic
... products and practices" (p. 21). DiMaggio(1982) has shownhow nine-
teenth-century Boston elites constructed the distinction between high and
popular culture by founding organizations that could monopolize cultural
objects (a high-culture repertoire), sacralize high culture (in distinct spaces
with an awe-filled atmosphere),and legitimate the high-culture/popular-culture
distinction. Related work by Levine(1988) traces the complexnineteenth-cen-
tury process of boundingoffhigh from popular culture. Beisel (1992) analyzes
the active effort by nineteenth-century Americanreformersto construct a moral
boundarybetweenliterature and obscenity.
As the work collected in Lamont&Foumier (1992) suggests, distinctions
are often drawnto reinforce social inequalities. Schwartz(1981) considers
deeper issue at the intersection of the cognitive and the social: whydo vertical
classifications universally connote social and moral inequality? Pointing out
that the original Durkheimianattempt to root social classifications in social
structures is circular (Durkheim& Mauss1963 [1903]), Schwartz looks to the
universal dependenceof children on larger, morepowerfuladults for the source
of "vertical classification."
Zerubavel (1991) catalogs the varied ways in which humanbeings make
distinctions in everyday life. In Terra Cognita (1992) he traces the complex
process through which European knowledge of the new world was reconfig-
ured as people attempted to integrate newexperiences into established cogni-
tive structures. A big gap nonetheless remains between cognitive and social
accounts of the ways people form and maintain boundaries. Goffman’s(1974,
1983) later workmovedtoward a formal analysis of the ways cognitive frames
boundand organize social interactions. But sociologists have thus far made
less use than they might of work by social psychologists on howpeople make
Annual Reviews


and use social categories. Baron&Pfeffer (1993:14)note that social categories

"can be readily induced and need not rely on ... permanent or ascriptive
distinctions. Thesocial psychologicalliterature is replete with studies invoking
strong group identification and intergroup polarization, even with only the
slightest and most transitory experimental manipulations (Kramer &Brewer
1984)." Theynote further that "[o]rganizations are certainly very muchin the
businessof creating categories, such as departments,ranks, and job titles" (see
Baron 1986, Lansberg 1989).
Boundariesof race, nationality, and religion are of special interest because
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they appear as naturalized, primordial categories even whenthey are clearly

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socially constituted (Barth 1969, Calhoun1993). Fredrickson (1981) has

scribed howdifferent systems of racial categories developed in the United
States and South Africa. Anthropologists like AbnerCohen(1969; 1974) have
shownhowgroups sharpen ethnic and religious boundaries as they moveinto
new economicniches. Olzak (1992) has used ecological arguments to account
for heightenedethnic group conflict.
Researchers have shownhowlarger organizational actors influence the form
of cognitive categories and social boundaries. Sexual boundariesare accentu-
ated whenpolitical leaders seek to tighten group boundaries (Davies 1982).
Following Aries (1962), historians have suggested that heightened gender
boundaries early in the modernperiod (Laqueur 1990) were part of a general
Europeanprocess of social segregation, drawing sharper distinctions among
classes and ages as well as between the sexes (see Farge & Davis 1993).
Cornell (1988) has examinedhowAmericanIndians cameto define themselves
as tribes in response to the Americanstate’s insistence on negotiating only
with tribal groups. Montejano(1987) has analyzed howracial divisions crys-
tallized in twentieth-century Texas, reinforcing an understanding of racial
categories as dynamicand historically contingent(Omi&Winant 1986). One
of the most powerful ways of categorizing persons in the contemporaryword
is that of national citizenship. Brubaker(1992:1) contrasts the Frenchunder-
standings of nationhoodand citizenship ("state-centered and assimilationist")
with those of Germany ("volk-centered amddifferentialist"), tracing the his-
todcal sources of these differences. Sahlins (1989) has examinednational
boundaries, looking at howthe hardening of national boundaries affected the
identity and experience of frontier populations, while Watldns (1991) has
documentedthe increasing articulation between nation and demographicbe-
Oneof the most ambitious attempts to think about boundaries in fresh ways
is Abbott (1988). Abbot conceptualizes professions as actors in a system,
competingto define and establish exclusive control over jurisdictions. An
academicknowledgesystem allows a profession to defend its jurisdiction, in
part by moreclearly defining its borders (p. 56). Whenprofessions attempt
Annual Reviews


raid others’ jurisdictions, they developintellectual strategies, such as abstrac-

tion or reduction, to subsumeor displace the knowledgeclaims of their rivals
(pp. 98-108). Thus jurisdictional claims and knowledgeframes are intimately
linked (see Gieryn et al 1985, Halpern 1992). Gieryn (1983) has shown,
example,that scientists demarcatescience from nonsciencedifferently in dif-
ferent circumstancesto justify claims for authority, autonomy,and resources.
Power, knowledge, and boundaries are brought together in new ways in two
recent literatures, those of "postmodernism"and "feminist epistemology."
Whilethe topic of postmodernismis muchtoo large to be addressed here (see
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Arditi 1993), in essence postmodernists argue that a new"order of things" has

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emergedin which the traditional categories that separated kinds of knowl-

edge--or that separated truth from fiction, high from popular culture, and the
sacred from the profane--no longer hold. Baudrillard’s (1983, 1988) postulate
of a newhyperreality created not as a representation of already existing realities
but from the power of signs themselves and Donna Haraway’s (1991) argu-
ments for the embeddednessof cybernetics in every aspect of social reality
today provide examples of such arguments.
The motif of the constituted subject suggested by Foucault has been devel-
oped along independent lines by contemporaryfeminists. In someways these
developmentscan be seen as a return to earlier concerns of the sociology of
knowledge,in particular Mannheim’s(1936) efforts to find a correlation be-
tweenideas and their location within the social structure. For feminist theorists,
however,differences in ideas are not consequencesof the different "interests"
of social groups, but of the differential effects of powerin the constitution of
subjects. Feminists (Haraway1991) have criticized Foucault for his failure
recognize differences in the ways powerpenetrates people belonging to dif-
ferent social categories (gender, race, sexual preference), thereby constituting
subjects differently, including the generation of gendered, or raeialized,
"knowledges." For them, the constitution of "difference" has to be made a
fundamental element of analysis, along with the always partial and situated
nature of knowledge.
The search for a feminist epistemology has taken several forms, which
provide an interesting illustration of the varied ways knowledgemaybe so-
cially shapedor determined.First are "standpointtheories," like those of Marx,
Mannheim,and other pioneers in the sociology of knowledge.Feminist schol-
ars (Smith 1979, Hartsock 1987, Collins 1990) argue that the oppressed,
those excluded from power, have a unique vantage point from which to un-
derstand aspects of the world that maybe invisible to dominantgroups.
One explanation of putative differences between men’s and women’sways
of knowingtraces these differences to childhood experience (Chodorow1978,
Benjamin1988). If girls differentiate less from their mothersthan boys do and
womenremain enmeshedwith their mothers or their children, they are less
Annual Reviews


likely to experiencethemselvesas separate fromthe things they study(sub-

jeet-objeet distinction, see Keller 1983),to use modesof thoughtthat sharply
separateor disaggregatewhatis studied (anal)tie reasoning),or to organize
knowledge hierarchically(deductivereasoning).Arelated position is a variant
of arguments linking knowledge
to authority structures: If menare vestedwith
social authority, then authoritative knowledge is "whatmenhaveto say" and
it "carr[ies] forwardthe interests and perspectivesof men"(Smith1987:18).
If women are responsiblefor the private, relational aspectsof social life and
are excluded frompublicsystemsof authority,theyare less likely to participate
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in whatis currentlytakento be universal,analytic, objectiveknowledge. These

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argumentsfocus less on women as knowersthan on the purported maleness

of modernscience. DorothySmith(1987), Evelyn FoxKeller (1985),
others (Schiebinger1993)havearguedthat the modernsciences werespecif-
ically constructedas maleenterprises, accruingprestige andpowerfrommale
styles of thought.In this way,manyrecentexplorationsof feministepistemol-
ogy transcendthe distinction betweenold and newsociologies of knowledge
by analyzing both howwomen’sknowledgediffers systematically from that
of men(althoughmostof this workis speculativerather than empirical)and
howthe very nature of whatis takento be knowledge is shapedby malegender
(Flax 1983).

There has also been a resurgence of workon informal knowledge(Geertz
1983), that is, the knowledgeordinary people developto deal with their
everydaylives (Gramsci1971). Whethersuchliterature is properlysociology
of knowledge,or whetherit belongswithin a broadenedsociologyof culture
or a sociologyof consciousnessremainsto be seen. But at least someworks
are of interest here becausethey examinehowordinarypeopleactually take
up and use (or reject) the knowledgegeneratedfor themby elites (Gamson
1992,Swidler1995).Billig (1987,1992)analyzesthe intellectual structure
ordinary thinking and the uses people makeof popular culture. Riessman
(1990)has examined howpeopleconstruct narratives of their lives.
The sociology of formal and informal knowledgehas converged, partly
throughthe workof the newcultural historians whohavedrawnexplicit links
betweenfolk knowledge and high culture (Greenblatt1988,Hunt1989,Muker-
jee & Schudson1991), and partly becauseof intellectual innovations, like
attention to "discursivefields" whichallowscholarsto discoverlarger organ-
izing principles within popularformsof knowledge.
The emphasison "practice" in cultural studies (Ortner 1984) has had
salutary effect in makingexplicit the problemof howideas become plausible
to those whohold them. WilliamSewell, Jr. (1992) has madean important
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contribution by clarifying howpeople reproducesocial structures by acting on

the cultural "schemas" embeddedin the world they inhabit. The fact that
cultural schemasare "capable of being transposed or extended meansthat the
resource consequencesof the enactmentof cultural schemasis never entirely
predictable. A joke told to a new audience, an invcstmcnt made in a new
market, an offer of marriage madeto a new patrilinc, a cavalry attack made
on a newterrain, a crop planted in a newlycleared field or in a familiar field
in a newspringmtheeffect of these actions on the resources of the actors is
never quite certain" (p. 18). Just as cultural schemasprovide the bases for
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practices that reproducestructures, so Sewell has shownin earlier work(1974)

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howthe plausibility of a new ideology--in this case, socialism amongthe

workers of nineteenth-century Marseille--depends upon existing social and
cultural arrangementsthat makethe ideology seemenactable in practice (see

Little of the workreviewed here explicitly locates itself in the sociology of
knowledge.Despite diverse disciplines, perspectives, and substantive foci,
however,these literatures allow at least somepreliminary conclusions. First,
social authority shapes the authoritativeness of knowledge,affecting both the
authority knowledgecan effectively claim and the forms that knowledgeclaims
take (see Asad 1993). Second, distinctions, social and intellectual, are made
alonglines ef social differentiation, particularly hierarchical ones. Third, shifts
in the mediathrough whichknowledgeis transmitted, especially the transition
to print, have dramaticeffects on the entire organization of knowledgesystems.
Fourth, to explain whynew knowledgeemerges and to account for the social
effects of ideas, scholars need to pay careful attention to factors that directly
affect the institutions and actors that produceand distribute knowledge.Fifth,
analysis of howthe social location of actors affects their knowledgemust
account for the constitution of actors themselves. Sixth, knowledgeand power
are intimately related because powerallows people to enact realities that make
their knowledgeplausible.
The new sociology of knowledge,not yet a unified field, does not have a
single problematic around which debates revolve. Nonetheless, there are op-
portunities for fruitful research along the manylines where the literatures
brought together here converge and diverge. For example, the issue of the
"authoritativeness" of different kinds of knowledgeraises manyquestions,
amongthem for whomand to what extent officially approved forms of knowl-
edge really do have authority. Hoggart (1957) argued manyyears ago that
English working-class culture remainedpredominantlyoral into the twentieth
century, and Whitehead’s (1974) study of occultism suggests widespread re-
Annual Reviews


jection of the authority of modem science. But this raises the question of what
it meansfor knowledgeto be "authoritative." Is it necessary that most lay-
persons actually share it7 Or, like medievalCatholicism, are forms of knowl-
edge authoritative because established political authorities accept them? Or
because they define public discourse, whatever people maythink privately?
Anddo the officially authoritative forms of knowledgestructure the claims
even of heretics and dissenters?
If social authority structures knowledge,it is importantto ask precisely what
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about authority influences either the form or content of knowledge. Laitin

Annu. Rev. Sociol. 1994.20:305-329. Downloaded from

(1986), for example, has madea strong case that British colonial rule had
enduring effects in Nigeria, making"ancestral village" a central political
identity while deemphasizingthe political significance of religion. But how
precisely did British rule privilege village identity, and whydid this identity
remain salient in post-colonial Nigerian polities? Moregenerally, is it an
authority’s control over specific incentives and sanctions, or rather control
over central symbols that anchors systems of knowledge?Or do authorities
influence knowledgethrough their control over the institutions of intellectual
life? Howdo conflicts between political and intellectual poweraffect the
structure of knowledge?
Similar questions can be asked about howsocial inequalities structure cat-
egorical distinctions. Mostintriguing is howsocial categories becomenatural-
ized. Is it only, as Foucault claims, because powerfulinstitutions enact dis-
tinctions that they cometo appear incontrovertibly real? Or can classifications
crystallize on morepurely cognitive or interactionist grounds?Andunder what
circumstances do distinctions remain hazy?
These questions and others like them--about howmedia of intellectual
transmission structure knowledgeor howdiffering standpoints influence def-
initions of what constitutes knowledge--suggestthat researchers wouldbenefit
from greater awareness of the cumulative gains being madein the sociology
of knowledge.Such awareness might stimulate explicit attention to the con-
cepts and causal modelsthat underlie particular historical or comparative

Wewould like to thank Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Ricardo Samuel for
expert research assistance. Elizabeth Armstrong, Paul DiMaggio,Claude Fi-
scher, Jeff Manza,John Martin and an anonymousreviewer provided valuable
commentsand advice.

as well~s anyarticlecitedin anAnnual
fromthe Annual ReviewsPreprlnts
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