Disciplinary Trading Zones: A Focus on Methodological Imports

Erin Leahey, Associate Professor of Sociology

While federal agencies and universities are lavishing attention and resources on interdisciplinary scholarship, empirical assessments of knowledge-sharing across disciplines are rare. Those that do exist focus on social ties and how they affect the transfer of substantive disciplinary knowledge.

Dr. Leahey, with then-graduate student Sharon Koppman, extended this literature in two ways. 1) By bringing research from psychology to bear on the multidisciplinary literature on diffusion, contending that in addition to social ties, cultural competencies – like openness to diverse ideas – encourage knowledge borrowing from other disciplines. 2) By breaking from the focus on substantive, problem-oriented knowledge and instead emphasizing the exchange of methodological tools.

Using data procured from Internet resources like the Web of Science, the team studied the diffusion of three particular methodological techniques – two of which were introduced to Sociology from the life sciences and one which was developed within Sociology. Interviews with importers (individuals who introduced the method to Sociology) and early adopters (who used the method) helped inform subsequent quantitative models and our understanding of how methods are transferred across disciplines.

As a result of the research, Dr. Leahey and Dr. Koppman wrote “Risk and Reputation: How Professional Classification Signals Drive the Diffusion of New Methods.”  Dr. Leahey presented the paper at Indiana University, School of Library and Information Science (April 2016), American Sociological Association annual meeting in Seattle (August 2016), and University of Arizona, School of Sociology (October 2016).

The paper is currently undergoing revisions for publication in the Organization Science journal.

Last updated on March 16, 2017.