The Quantified Scholar

How austerity, markets, and rankings transformed the British social sciences

How does the quantification of knowledge change the nature of science? In this project, I explore the implications of a particular family of types of quantification (standardized research assessments) on the knowledge and labor of social scientists. I do so by examining the effects of the United Kingdom’s research assessment exercises on academic careers, the organization of higher education, the lived experience of the academic workplace, and the make-up of social scientific disciplines. Combining fine-grained quantitative data, computational analyses of academic publications, interviews with scholars and managers, and institutional archival materials, this book shows how research assessments altered the career patterns of social scientists in a way that increased inequalities within and across institutions and made the British social sciences more homogeneous and less epistemically diverse. With this, the book makes an important contribution to the sociology of knowledge, highlighting the mechanisms through which labor markets, organizations, and regulation can change the character of the scientific enterprise.

Evidence of decreasing disciplinary diversity. Cosine similarity of papers published in British-based journals in Economics, Political Science/IR and Sociology 1970-2018.

Since 1986 and roughly every five years since, the British government has assessed the quality of research across the country’s publicly funded universities to optimize the allocation of the nation’s scarce research funding. The most recent of these assessments, was the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). Operationalized as vast assessments that simultaneously evaluate academic outputs and the boundaries of every discipline contained in Britain’s public universities, these exercises are now an undisputed part of the incentives and constraints that structure the British higher education sector and the careers and activities of its many knowledge workers. The Quantified Scholar provides a unique examination of how these exercises in quantification reshaped academic careers, institutional priorities, and the knowledge produced by British social scientists creating less diverse knowledge, more homogeneous disciplines, less epistemic innovation, and more unequal workplaces.

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