Thesis ID: CBB224687760

Observing Prestige: Visibility and Performance in the Sociology of Knowledge (2023)


This dissertation studies the observation of prestige. Sociologists use "prestige" to describe rewarding displays of importance associated with high-status positions: pub- lic praise; interpersonal admiration; special titles and costumes; access to restricted locations; special payments like grants or endowments; "going down in history"; and other forms of publicly visible symbolic reward. Prestige narratives magnify small underlying differences into durable, naturalized images of social hierarchy by controlling what can be seen as important. Displays of importance are part of a more general class of social processes that are partially caused by external observation. When cultural processes have reflexive or performative qualities, this must be reflected in our measures in some way. Developing measures of cultural associations (e.g., logics, schemas, meanings) in a way that respects their innately reflexive quality necessitates being more specific about the qualitative implications of the scale at which we observe cultural processes (i.e., their duration, amount, or frequency). By improving our ability to observe the generation of prestige, we gain greater insight into the stylistically material forms of domination and superiority that underwrite the most celebrated hierarchies. Chapter 1 discusses a methodological problem in a popular word association measurement model in computational cultural sociology. Chapter 2 examines how a controversy in the academic prestige structure of the midcentury US psychological profession shaped a critical juncture in the history of psychological measurement: the development of validity theory. Chapter 3 compares the distribution of correct responses to trivia questions on the US television game show Jeopardy! to the distribution of contestants’ occupations, and explains why the trivia show genre is guaranteed to produce an occupational prestige pattern. Chapter 4 describes the emergence of a novel symbolic distinction in scientific publication in the economics profession—the typesetting of working papers in LaTeX —and examines how this process relates to the changing formal organization of technical superiority in the field.

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Authors & Contributors
Cortada, James W.
Strom, E. Thomas
Mainz, Vera V.
Brock, William H.
Chaudhry, Humayun J.
Fangerau, Heiner
Social Studies of Science
Ambix: Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
The Bridge: Journal of the National Academy of Engineering
Engineering Studies
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
American Chemical Society
Cambridge University Press
Crown Business
Lexington Books
Oxford University Press
The MIT Press
Professional qualifications; status; remuneration
Scientific communities; interprofessional relations
Computers and computing
Prizes; awards
Nobel Prizes
Jobs, Steve
Roux, Wilhelm
Wilson, Kenneth G.
Waksman, Selman Abraham
Hunter, Robert Fergus
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
19th century
18th century
20th century, late
United States
Great Britain
Apple (firm)
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France)
International Business Machines Corporation
National Science Foundation (U.S.)
American Institute of Pharmacy
American Pharmaceutical Association

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