We Make our Careers in Networks

I recently came across an engaging and illuminating article “On the Acrimoniousness of Intellectual Disputes” written by a prominent American sociologist Randall Collins. Not just researchers and academics will find this paper relevant and thought-provoking because it tackles the inner workings of the intellectual world, but it also might be of interest for everyone who is curious about creation and diffusion of ideas and knowledge. I recommend to read it (see below its open-access version) and for now I leave you with its final, reflective and acute paragraph:

“As intellectuals, we make our careers in networks. What we produce is shaped by our predecessors who provide the topics and techniques of thinking, and–if we are lucky–by webs of successors who continue and transform our ideas. We are shaped too by maneuvering around rivals with whom we divide up a limited field of attention. Usually this process goes on tacitly. We would be better off if we were more explicit about our dependence on a network cycling through widely if unevenly shared bodies of ideas and argumentative techniques; more explicit, too, in recognizing that the few individuals who become the rallying points of intellectual movements are focal points in flows of ideas that wash in many directions around networks made up of large numbers of us. Less egotism, both individual and collective, and more awareness of how we all constitute each other: this could be a path toward lowering intellectual acrimony in the future.” (p. 70)

Collins, Randall. 2002. “On the Acrimoniousness of Intellectual Disputes.” Common Knowledge 8 (1): 47-70.
This article is substantially drawn from Collins’ astonishing The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change (1998).

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