Ethnography of the Career Politics

This FQS Debate deals with practices of (text- and research-) production and communication in the social sciences and their specific institutional and social structure and dynamic—including individual and trans-individual career strategies. We aim for a reflexive shift of the social sciences towards their own social structures and processes, for an ethnography of the social sciences with their politics and practices. What (ethno-) practices and politics do scientists (doing qualitative research) enact to be or become successful members in their occupational fields, that is, to obtain a job, sponsors, a reputation, resonance in the media, and so forth.

Our aims include an articulation of the relation between prerequisites and conditions of cultural production in the social sciences on the one hand and their results on the other hand. In the social sciences the epistemological subject and object overlap: social structures and processes examined in the social sciences are themselves conditions for the production of scientific work. We ask: How self-attentive and self-reflexive are social scientists in this regard? To what extent do they accept the claim for "objectivation"—that is naturally applied to the social world "out there"—in "our own" world of the social sciences? Can we treat the social sciences differently from other social settings?

In this FQS Debate the emphasis is on the situation of the social sciences, and on the social scientists, and their career-practices inside of the institutional and social structures of social science "in the making." Very different aspects could be of interest here. We give some examples for the broad spectrum of discussion topics:

  • The "actual" practice of interpretation in research groups,
  • the establishment of authority and image management of scientific authors,
  • politics of applying for positions: temporal changes in relevant qualifications,
  • qualification politics: strategies of doctoral advisors and doctoral candidates, etc.,
  • funding politics: channels of information, committees, disciplinary communities, insider relationships, etc.,
  • politics of publishing: being accepted and rejected by scientific journals,
  • consequences of the (often) marginal position of qualitative social research opposed to "mainstream research" in the "quantitative paradigm,"
  • social preferences and aversions in citing-practices,
  • politics of editors and publishers,
  • changes in scientific writing and the readership—for an expert audience vs. (also) for interested lay persons and others,
  • changes in scientific work caused by computer, Internet, electronic publishing,
  • changes in presentation-practices (Internet, Powerpoint, etc.),
  • strategies of choosing "interesting" research topics (i.e. topics of social interest),
  • preferences for methodical and theoretical "paradigms" that cannot be explained rationally,
  • the meaning of preconceptions, ideology, and perspective-taking of the scientist-as-subject,
  • "staging" strategies in institutionalized "evaluation" contexts,
  • the scientists' public relations to popularize their research (does the idea of "to be" mean "to-be-in-the-media" also apply to scientists?),
  • comparison of the production and communication in the social sciences—corresponding to the international and interdisciplinary character of FQS—in different countries, continents and (science-) cultures.

In informal conversations beyond the "publishable discourse" social scientists easily admit that these topics are important for science, scientific work, knowledge growth and gaining of resources, for careers and social positioning in the scientific community. Getting to know such practices and politics plays an important role in the socialization of young scientists. This debate is about bringing these aspects into consciousness so that they can be openly and seriously discussed.

We suggest a broad range of approaches and text-types (genres) for this FQS Debate: Of course the discussion will consist of qualitative studies about the social sciences in-the-making and theoretical essays. But the chosen form must open ways for describing interesting episodes, phenomena, and experiences with these problems in a way that is responsible and appropriate to the subject matter (narrative, auto-/biographical, poetic, fictional, etc).

Different perspectives of participants are of interest, too: the perspectives of applicants and assessors, evaluators and evaluated, graduates writing theses and their supervisors, students and teachers, social science administrators, etc.—we welcome all of them as authors!

Debate "Ethnography of the Career Politics": Wolff-Michael Roth, Jo Reichertz, Franz Breuer, Carlos Kölbl