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Author Information: Eric Kerr, National University of Singapore,

Kerr, Eric. “The Social Epistemology of Book Reviews.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 12 (2018): 48-52.

The pdf of the article gives specific page references. Shortlink:

Image by Joel Gallagher via Flickr / Creative Commons


Because 2019 marks the end of my first full year as Book Reviews editor at SERRC, I want to take this opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done in terms of promoting conversation and criticism around new books in social epistemology and to reflect on how we can apply insights from social epistemology to our book reviews at SERRC.

The Place of Reviews

Nominally, social epistemology has a close connection to the book review.  As many readers of this journal will know, the term “social epistemology” was initially coined in the 1960s by the librarian and information scientist, Jesse Shera, to mean “the study of knowledge in society.” (Shera 1970, p. 86) Shera developed his work with colleague Margaret Egan and in the steps of fellow librarian Douglas Waples, concerned with the ways in which society reads: broadly, how it accesses, interprets, categorizes, indexes, and disseminates the written word and the role that librarianship, bibliography, and new methods of documentation could play (Zandonade 2004).

A library is a very particular filter of knowledge production. The Web may be seen as another, or as a collection of many. An academic journal yet another. These filters organize knowledge in society in their own way and we can, and do, evaluate this and make judgments of when it works well and when it does not work so well. Today, our access to information occurs within a wider ecosystem of filters that have flourished in the contemporary period, in tandem with the technological infrastructure to radically multiply and variegate filters.

For educators, reviews (from our students or are colleagues) are sometimes the primary means by which our performance and success are judged. Customer reviews – typically performed by the “uncredentialled curator” – are available on almost any website with something to sell and new companies have formed whose purpose is to provide customer reviews alone. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and so on, use human and non-human filters to sift through vast trenches of information. I don’t need to belabour the point – it’s familiar to all of us.

Alongside the idea of the filter, has emerged a renewed prominence of curators, influenced by its powerful position in the art world. This curation comes with its own culture, its own beliefs, and its own language. This language functions to exclude alternatives and police boundaries. And while an art curator’s job may have once been to select what art was worth your attention, now, in an attention economy, a curator’s job may be just as much to provide the means to deal with information overload.

To complicate things still further, we now perform much more personal curation – keeping tabs, messages, snippets, and screenshots as well as cultivating all kinds of algorithms that learn from our past behaviour and deliver to us more of what we saw before.

Thomas Frank calls this expansion of curation, not just into reviewing almost anything we consume, but into the very language we use and the ways we think, curatolatry. He discusses how, responding to the newly-coined “fake news” (Faulkner 2018; Fuller 2016; Levy 2017), Barack Obama said:

We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to.

While Obama, in Frank’s view in common with other liberals, tends towards curation, Donald Trump is associated with the “refusal of curation. Trump does not reform or organize the chaos of the world…”

Frank warns at the end of his article:

“What they don’t agree upon, meanwhile, is simply ignored. It is outside the conversation. It is excluded. A world without fake news might really be awesome. So might a shop where every bottle of wine is excellent. So might an electoral system in which everyone heeds the urging of the professional consensus. But in any such system, reader, people like you and me can be assured with almost perfect confidence that our voices will be curated out.”

A Social Epistemological Interpretation of the Book Review

Would, should, SERRC perform a kind of curating function “that people agree to” to filter new books in social epistemology? I don’t think it does perform this function and I’m not sure that it should.

It is often alleged that book reviews tend towards mediocrity and nepotism, falling out of the publishing industry and, in academia, entrenched structures and metrics of hierarchy, prestige, and social status. To add to the miserable plight of the book review, they are not treated as prestigious publications or emphasized as lines on CVs (if listed at all).

They do not rank as highly as research articles or chapters in books or, indeed, books themselves. They do not generally rank at all on any metric that is used by academic institutions or funding bodies. Book reviews tend, therefore, to fall into the category of ‘service’ – gifts one is obliged to offer largely out of a sense of duty, responsibility, and morality.

This is lamentable. The first thing we are asked to do as students is review books. For many of us, the first thing we do when writing, or preparing to write, a paper, is to review books – to perform a literature review. Book reviews are not, primarily, a service to the author but to a wider audience. (If they were the former, one could easily email it to the author and avoid the hassle of formal publication.)

They do not simply repeat knowledge contained in the book but provide new knowledge as evidenced, I believe, by all of the book reviews we published in the last two years. Sometimes this is taken to be appraisal by an expert but I think that social epistemology can give us reason to take a second glance at this intuitive idea (Social Epistemology 32(6) – special issue on Expertise and Expert Knowledge; Watson 2018).

We should be critical of the encroachment of curation and the perceived need to curate. In wider culture, the most well-known critics were not themselves trained in the field they reviewed. This is often held against them by artists and writers but if we do not see their purpose as being about expert appraisal, that criticism loses some of its force.

One reason for this may be that reviews tell us as much about the reviewer as the reviewee. Reviews, as Oscar Wilde observed, are autobiographical. Ambrose Bierce echoed this sentiment in his Devil’s Dictionary. The entry for “review” reads simply:

To set your wisdom (holding not a doubt of it,
Although in truth there’s neither bone nor skin to it)
At work upon a book, and so read out of it
The qualities that you have first read into it.

This view seems to suit us at SERRC. We are, as in our name, a collective and much more than curate we read and write about what happens to take our interest at that time. We think, often, out loud. If that interest spreads throughout the community, it is likely to be picked up and turned into a symposium or extended dialogue. Or perhaps not. Others are welcome to join our community if they are interested in contributing to these conversations.

18 Months, more or less

Nevertheless, and undeniably, book review editors have a role to play in organizing knowledge in society. My approach to editing book reviews since I took over has not been to gatekeep. “Is this interesting?” – usual caveats aside about the word ‘interesting’ – has been the benchmark rather than “Is this proper social epistemology?”

I took over as Book Review Editor part-way through 2017. In this short period, we have published 64 reviews (and replies to reviews, and replies to reviews of reviews). Many of these have taken the form of book review “symposiums” where several authors take on one book, often featuring replies from the book’s author. Soliciting a range of views allows us to present a book from the perspective of scholars with different expertise and focus.

It encourages more in-depth and richer discussions of a book, and its surrounding intellectual milieu, and extends the conversation sometimes over a period of months. I believe that, in a small way, this facilitates a new ordering of knowledge around new books and, so, contributes to a new social epistemology.

It’s hard to focus on specific books given this long list but I can hint at some trends that we have been pushing, and will continue to push, in the new year. One concerns diversity and internationalization. When two of my National University of Singapore colleagues, Jay Garfield and Bryan van Norden, published an opinion piece in the New York Times’ Stone that argued for a greater role for “less commonly taught philosophies” (such as, but not limited to, Chinese or Indian philosophy) in the US curriculum, it caused a stir in the profession, and more widely.

A great deal has been written about the subsequent book Van Norden published on the theme, Taking Back Philosophy, but I would argue that our symposium, featuring seven scholars, including me, has added quite a bit to that conversation. A personal highlight for me was Steve Fuller’s visit to the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore to speak on the subject. The full lecture can be heard here. Another important intervention in internationalizing our catalogue has been the symposium on African philosophy and I intend to continue this global perspective in 2019.

One innovation of SERRC is that we encourage authors to respond. I often write to authors to give them what the media call a right of reply. I believe this is quite unusual in the academic reviewsphere. It’s a method that is fraught with pitfalls and potential catastrophe but, I think, valuable for the ideas that frequently come out of it. Traditionally, a review is left hanging. The last laugh. Allowing authors a chance to respond can correct perceived inaccuracies but, more importantly, lead to new shared understandings.

As we enter 2019 under the deluge of our own personal tsundoku let’s embrace a multitude of reviews and reviews of reviews.

Best wishes for the new year. As always, if you wish to review a book, or propose a symposium, for SERRC you may write to me at the address below.

Contact details:


Briggle, Adam; and Robert Frodeman. “Thinking À La Carte.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 6 (2018): 8-11.

Dusek, Val. “Antidotes to Provincialism.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 5 (2018): 5-11.

Fuller, Steve. “Embrace the Inner Fox: Post-Truth as the STS Symmetry Principle Universalized.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, Steve Fuller (December 25, 2016):

Fuller, Steve. “‘China’ As the West’s Other in World Philosophy.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 11 (2018): 1-11.

Graness, Anke. “African Philosophy and History.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 10 (2018): 45-54.

Jain, Pankaj. “Taking Philosophy Back: A Call From the Great Wall of China.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 9 (2018): 60-64.

Janz, Bruce. “The Problem of Method in African Philosophy.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 8 (2018): 1-7.

Kerr, Eric. “A Hermeneutic of Non-Western Philosophy.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 4 (2018): 1-6.

Lauer, Helen. “Scientific Consensus and the Discursive Dilemma.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 9 (2018): 33-44.

Levy, Neil. “The Bad News About Fake News.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 8 (2017): 20-36.

Faulkner, P. 2018. “Fake Barns, Fake News.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 6 (2018): 16-21.

Martini, C. and M. Baghramian. 2018. Special issue on Expertise and Expert Knowledge, Social Epistemology 36(6).

Riggio, Adam. “Action in Harmony with a Global World.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 3 (2018): 20-26.

Shera, J.H. Sociological Foundations of Librarianship. New York: Asia Publishing House, 1970.

Watson, J.C. 2018. “What Experts Could Not Be,” Social Epistemology, DOI: 10.1080/02691728.2018.1551437

Zandonade, T. 2004. “Social Epistemology from Jesse Shera to Steve Fuller, Library Trends 52(4): 810-832.

Author Information: Christopher M. Brown, University of Tennessee, Martin,

Brown, Christopher M. “Defending Some Objections to Moti Mizrahi’s Arguments for Weak Scientism.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 2 (2018): 1-35.

The pdf of the article gives specific page references, and contains the article’s complete text. Due to its length, we have split the online publication of Brown’s reply into three segments. The first was published 30 January, and the second 1 February. Shortlink for part three:

Please refer to:

Image by Chase Elliott Clark via Flickr / Creative Commons


Revisiting an Objection to Mizrahi’s Attempt to Defeat Objection O2

Recall that Mizrahi thinks Mizrahi’s Argument is a scientific argument. Furthermore, in 2017a he thinks he needs to defend Weak Scientism against objection O2. He does so by arguing that: (a) if O2 is true, then all knowledge by inference would be viciously circular; but the consequent of (a) is false, and, therefore, the antecedent of (a) is false.

In my 2017 response to Mizrahi 2017a, I argued that Mizrahi’s attempt to defeat objection O2 fails since he assumes, citing Ladyman, that “‘deductive inference is only defensible by appeal to deductive inference’ (Ladyman 2002, 49)” (Mizrahi 2017a, 362) whereas it is reasonable to think that the rules of deductive inference are defensible by noting we believe them by the same sort of power we believe propositions such as ‘1+1=2’ and ‘a whole is greater than one its parts’, namely, some non-inferential mode of knowing (see, e.g., Feldman 2003, 3-4). So there is no inconsistency in affirming both a scientific argument for Weak Scientism is a circular argument and knowledge of the rules of deductive inference is defensible.

Now, in responding to my comment in 2017, Mizrahi misconstrues my comment by rendering it as the following question: “why think that deductive rules of inference cannot be proved valid in a non-circular way?” (2017b, 9; emphasis mine). But as should be clear from the above, this is not my objection, since I never talk about “proving in a valid way” deductive rules of inference. Mizrahi seems to think that the only way to show deductive inference is defensible is by way of a circular proof of them. But why think a thing like that? Rather, as Aristotle famously points out, good deductive arguments have to start from premises that we know with certainty by way of some non-deductive means (Posterior Analytics, Book II, ch. 19, see esp. 100a14-100b18). Again, Mizrahi has not shown there is an inconsistency in affirming both a scientific argument for Weak Scientism is a circular argument and knowledge of the rules of deductive inference is defensible.

Against Mizrahi’s Claim that Philosophers Should Not Use Persuasive Definitions of Scientism.

In 2017a, Mizrahi claims that persuasive definitions of scientism, e.g., “scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture” (Sorrell 1994, x) or “scientism is an exaggerated deference towards science, an excessive readiness to accept as authoritative any claim made by the sciences, and to dismiss every kind of criticism of science or its practitioners as anti-scientific prejudice” (Haack 2007, 17-18), are problematic because they beg the question against the scientistic stance (Mizrahi 2017a, 351; 352), or otherwise err by not “show[ing] precisely what is wrong with scientism” (2017a, 352).

In my 2017 response to Mizrahi’s claim that philosophers should not use persuasive definitions of scientism, I do two things. First, I offer a counter-example to Mizrahi’s view by showing that one can give a logically valid argument for the “persuasive” description, ‘abortion is murder’, an argument that does not beg questions against those who deny the conclusion and also explains why some folks accept the conclusion. Second, I attempted to offer a non-question begging argument for a persuasive description of scientism, one which offers an explanation—by way of its premises—why someone may accept that definition as true.

Mizrahi offers some objections to my 2017 response on this score. First, Mizrahi objects that my sample argument for the conclusion, abortion is murder, is invalid. He next posits that one of the premises of my sample argument for the conclusion, abortion is murder, is such that “the emotionally charged term ‘innocent’ is smuggled into [it]” (2017b, 18). Finally, he gives a reason why one may think the premise, the human fetus is an innocent person, is false.

Mizrahi thinks my argument for a persuasive definition of scientism “suffers from the same problems as [my] abortion argument” (2017b, 18). More specifically, he thinks the argument is “misleading” since it treats Strong Scientism and Weak Scientism in one argument and Mizrahi does not advocate for Strong Scientism, but for Weak Scientism. In addition, he notes I assume “without argument that there is some item of knowledge . . . that is both non-scientific and better than scientific knowledge. Given that the scientism debate is precisely about whether scientific knowledge is superior to non-scientific knowledge, one cannot simply assume that non-scientific knowledge is better than scientific knowledge without begging the question” (2017b, 19).

In responding to these objections, I begin with Mizrahi’s analysis of my sample argument for the conclusion, abortion is murder. The first thing to say is that Mizrahi criticizes an argument different from the one I give in my 2017 response. The sample argument I offer in 2017 is as follows:

14. Abortion is the direct killing of a human fetus.
15. The human fetus is an innocent person.
16. Therefore, abortion is the direct killing of an innocent person [from 14 and 15].
17. The direct killing of an innocent person is murder.
18. Therefore, abortion is murder [from 16 and 17].

For some reason, Mizrahi renders premise 14 as

14a. Abortion is the direct killing of a human being (2017b, 17).

Mizrahi then accuses me of offering an invalid argument. Now, I agree that an argument the conclusion of which is proposition 16 and the premises of which are 14a and 15 is a logically invalid argument. But my argument has 16 as its conclusion and 14 and 15 as its premises, and that argument is logically valid.

As for Mizrahi’s next objection to my sample argument for the conclusion, abortion is murder, just because a person S finds a premise “emotionally charged” does not mean a person S1 can’t properly use that premise in an argument; that is to say, just because some person S doesn’t like to consider whether a premise is true, or doesn’t like to think about the implications of a premise’s being true, it does not follow that the use of such a premise is somehow dialectically improper.

If it were the case that emotionally laden or emotionally charged premises are off-limits, then just about all arguments in applied ethics (about topics such as the morality of the death penalty, eating meat, factory farming, gun-control, etc.) would be problematic since such arguments regularly employ premises that advocates and opponents alike will find emotionally laden or emotionally charged. The claim that a premise is dialectically improper because it is emotionally laden or emotionally charged is a non-starter.

Perhaps Mizrahi would counter by saying premise 15 is itself a persuasive definition or description, and so to use it as a premise in an argument that is supposed to be a counter-example to the view that the use of persuasive definitions is question-begging is itself question-begging. In that case, one may add the following premises to my sample argument for a non-question-begging argument that explains why someone may think abortion is murder:

15a. If a human person has not committed any crimes and is not intentionally attacking a human person, then that human person is an innocent person [assumption].

15b. A human being is a human person [assumption].

15c. A human fetus is a human being [assumption].

15d. Therefore, a human fetus is a human person [from 15b and 15c]

15e. Therefore, if a human fetus has not committed any crimes and is not intentionally attacking a human person, then a human fetus is an innocent person [from 15a and 15d].

15f. A human fetus has not committed any crimes and is not intentionally attacking a human person [assumption].

15g. Therefore, a human fetus is an innocent person [from 15e and 15f, MP].

Now, it may be that Mizrahi will offer reasons for rejecting some of the premises in the argument above, just as he offers a reason in 2017a for thinking 15 is false in the argument consisting of propositions 14-18. But all that would be beside the point. For the goal was not to produce a sample argument whose conclusion was a persuasive definition or description that any philosopher would think is sound—good luck with that project!—but rather to produce a logically valid argument for a persuasive definition of a term that both (a) does not beg any questions against those who reject the conclusion and (b) provides reasons for thinking the conclusion is true. But both the argument consisting of propositions 14-18 and the argument consisting of propositions 15a-15g do just that. Therefore, these arguments constitute good counter-examples to Mizrahi’s claim that persuasive definitions are always dialectally pernicious.

Turning to my argument in defense of a persuasive definition of scientism, I grant that my attempt in 2017 to offer one argument in defense of a persuasive definition of scientism that makes reference both to Strong Scientism and Weak Scientism is misleading. I therefore offer here an argument for a persuasive definition of Weak Scientism.
Also, rather than using variables in my sample argument, which I thought sufficient in my 2017 response (for the simple reason I thought a sample schema for a non-question begging argument in defense of a persuasive definition of scientism is what was called for), I also offer a possible example of a piece of philosophical knowledge that is better than scientific knowledge in my argument here. In my view, the following logically valid argument both offers an explanation for accepting its conclusion and does not beg any questions against those who reject its conclusion:

  1. Weak Scientism is the view that, of the various kinds of knowledge, scientific knowledge is the best [assumption].
  2. If scientific knowledge is the best kind of knowledge, then scientific knowledge is better than all forms of non-scientific knowledge [self-evident].
  3. Weak Scientism implies scientific knowledge is better than all forms of non-scientific knowledge [from 28 and 29].
  4. If position P1 implies that x is better than all forms of non-x, then P1 implies x is more valuable than all forms of non-x [assumption].[1]
  5. Therefore, Weak Scientism implies scientific knowledge is more valuable than all forms of non-scientific knowledge [from 30 and 31].
  6. If position P1 implies that x is more valuable than all forms of non-x, but x is not more valuable than all forms of non-x, then P1 is a view that has its advocates putting too high a value on x [assumption].
  7. Therefore, if Weak Scientism implies that scientific knowledge is more valuable than all forms of non-scientific knowledge and scientific knowledge is not more valuable than all forms of non-scientific knowledge, then Weak Scientism is a view that has its advocates putting too high a value on scientific knowledge [from 33].
  8. Some philosophers qua philosophers know that (a) true friendship is a necessary condition for human flourishing and (b) the possession of the moral virtues or a life project aimed at developing the moral virtues is a necessary condition for true friendship and (c) (therefore) the possession of the moral virtues or a life project aimed at developing the moral virtues is a necessary condition for human flourishing (see, e.g., the argument in Plato’s Gorgias[2]) and knowledge concerning the necessary conditions of human flourishing is better than any sort of scientific knowledge (see, e.g., St. Augustine’s Confessions, book five, chapters iii and iv), then there is a non-scientific form of knowledge better than scientific knowledge [self-evident].
  9. Some philosophers qua philosophers know that (a) true friendship is a necessary condition for human flourishing and (b) the possession of the moral virtues or a life project aimed at developing the moral virtues is a necessary condition for true friendship and (c) (therefore) the possession of the moral virtues or a life project aimed at developing the moral virtues is a necessary condition for human flourishing (see, e.g., the argument in Plato’s Gorgias) and knowledge concerning the necessary conditions of human flourishing is better than any sort of scientific knowledge (see, e.g., St. Augustine’s Confessions, book five, chapters iii and iv) [assumption].
  10. Therefore, there is a form of non-scientific knowledge better than scientific knowledge [from 35 and 36, MP].
  11. If knowing some form of non-x is better than knowing x, then knowing some form of non-x is more valuable than knowing x [assumption].
  12. Therefore, there is a form of non-scientific knowledge that is more valuable than scientific knowledge [from 37 and 38].
  13. Therefore, scientific knowledge is not more valuable than all forms of non-scientific knowledge [from 39].
  14. Therefore, Weak Scientism is a view that has its advocates putting too high a value on scientific knowledge [from 34, 32, and 40, MP].

In my view, the argument above both offers an explanation for accepting its conclusion and does not beg any questions against those who reject the conclusion. Someone may think one of the premises is false, e.g., 36. But that is beside the point at issue here. For Mizrahi claims the use of persuasive definitions always involves begging the question or a failure to support the persuasive definition with reasons.

But the argument above does not beg the question; someone may think Weak Scientism is true, become acquainted with the claim in premise 36, and then, realizing the error of his ways by way of the argument above, reject Weak Scientism. The argument above also provides a set of reasons for the conclusion, which is a persuasive description of Weak Scientism. It therefore constitutes a good counter-example to Mizrahi’s claim that the use of a persuasive definition of scientism is always problematic.

Contact details:


Aquinas, Saint Thomas. Summa Theologiae. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1981.

Aquinas, Saint Thomas. Summa Contra Gentiles. Book One. Trans. Anton C. Pegis. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.

Aristotle. Posterior Analytics. Trans. G.R.G. Mure. In The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1941.

Aristotle. On the Parts of Animals. Trans. William Ogle. In The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1941.

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. W.D. Ross. In The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1941.

Augustine, Saint. Confessions. Trans. Frank Sheed. 1942; reprint, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2006.

Brown, Christopher. “Some Logical Problems for Scientism.” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 85 (2011): 189-200.

Brown, Christopher. “Some Objections to Moti Mizrahi’s ‘What’s So Bad about Scientism?’.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 8 (2017): 42-54.

Bourget, David and David J. Chalmers. “What do philosophers believe?” Philosophical Studies 170, 3 (2014): 465-500.

Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. 1908; reprint, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995.

Feldman, Richard. Epistemology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2003.

Feser, Edward. The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008.

Feser, Edward. “Blinded by Scientism.” Public Discourse. March 9, 2010a. Accessed January 15, 2018.

Feser, Edward. “Recovering Sight after Scientism.” Public Discourse. March 12, 2010b. Accessed January 15, 2018.

Feser, Edward. Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. editiones scholasticae, 2014.

Haack, Susan. Defending Science—Within Reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007.

Haack, Susan. “The Real Question: Can Philosophy Be Saved? Free Inquiry (October/November 2017): 40-43.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. God, Philosophy, and Universities. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.

Mizrahi, Moti. “What’s So Bad About Scientism?” Social Epistemology 31, no. 4 (2017a): 351-367.

Mizrahi, Moti. “In Defense of Weak Scientism: A Reply to Brown.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 11 (2017b): 9-22.

Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “scientism,” accessed January 10, 2018,

Papineau, David. “Is Philosophy Simply Harder than Science?” The Times Literary Supplement On-line. June 1, 2017. Accessed July 11, 2017.

Pieper, Josef. In Defense of Philosophy. Trans. Lothar Krauth. 1966; reprint, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992.

Plato. Phaedo. In Five Dialogues. Trans. Grube and Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2002.

Plato. Gorgias. Trans. Donald J. Zeyl. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1987.

Plato. Republic. Trans. C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2004.

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.

Robinson, Daniel N. “Science, Scientism, and Explanation.” In Scientism: the New Orthodoxy. Williams and Robinson, eds. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015, 23-40.

Rosenberg, Alex. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2011.

Sorrell, Tom. Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science. First edition. London: Routledge, 1994.

Sorell, Tom. Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science. Kindle edition. London: Routledge, 2013.

Van Inwagen, Peter. Metaphysics. 4th edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2015.

Williams, Richard. N. and Daniel N. Robinson, eds. Scientism: the New Orthodoxy. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

[1] The proposition S’s preferring x to y is logically distinct from the proposition, x’s being more valuable than y. For S may prefer x to y even though y is, in fact, more valuable than x.

[2] See Gorgias 507a-508a.

Author Information: Kenneth R. Westphal, Boðaziçi Üniversitesi, Ýstanbul,

Westphal, Kenneth R. “Higher Education & Academic Administration: Current Crises Long Since Foretold.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 1 (2018): 41-47.

The official SERRC publication pdf of the article gives specific page references for formal bibliographical reference. However, the author himself has provided a pdf using a layout specifically designed for the presentation of this manifesto for the future of research publication and academic exchange of ideas. We encourage you to download Dr. Westphal’s own file above. Shortlink:

* * *

The current crises in education are indeed acute, though they have been long in the making, with clear analysis and evidence of their development and pending problems over the past 150 years! – evident in this concise chronological bibliography:

Mill, John Stuart, 1867. ‘Inaugural Address Delievered to the University of St. Andrews’, 1 Feb. 1867; rpt. in: J.M. Robson, gen. ed., The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, 33 vols. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963–91), 21:217–257.

Ahrens, Heinrich, 1870. Naturrecht oder Philosophie des Rechts und des Staates, 2 vols. (Wien, C. Gerold’s Sohn), „Vorrede zur sechten Auflage“, S. v–x.

Cauer, Paul, 1890. Staat und Erziehung. Schulpolitische Bedenken. Kiel & Leipzig, Lipsius & Fischer.

Cauer, Paul, 1906. Sieben Jahre im Kampf um die Schulreform. Gesammelte Aufstötze. Berlin, Weidmann.

Hinneberg, Paul, ed., 1906. Allgemeine Grundlage der Kultur der Gegenwart. Leipzig, Tuebner. Cattell, J. McKeen, 1913. University Control. New York, The Science Press.

Veblen, Thorstein, 1918. The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men. New York, B.W. Huebsch.

José Ortega y Gasset, 1930. Misión de la Universidad. Madrid, Revista de Occidente; rpt. in: idem., OC 4:313–353; tr. H.L. Nostrand, Mission of the University (Oxford: Routledge, 1946).

Eisenhower, Milton S., et al., 1959. The Efficiency of Freedom: Report of the Committee on Government and Higher Education. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.

Snow, C.P., 1964. The Two Cultures, 2nd rev. ed. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Rourke, Francis E., and Glenn E. Brooks, 1966. The Managerial Revolution in Higher Education. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.

Byrnes, James C., and A. Dale Tussing, 1971. ‘The Financial Crisis in Higher Education: Past, Present, and Future’. Educational Policy Research Center, Syracuse University Research Corp.; Washington, D.C., Office of Education (DHEW); (ED 061 896; HE 002 970).

Green, Thomas, 1980. Predicting the Behavior of the Educational System. Syracuse, NY, Syracuse University Press.

Schwanitz, Dietrich, 1999. Bildung. Alles, was man wissen muss. Frankfurt am Main, Eichhorn. Kempter, Klaus, and Peter Meusburger, eds., 2006. Bildung und Wissensgesellschaft (Heidelberger Jahrbücher 49). Berlin, Springer.

The British Academy, 2008. Punching our Weight: The Humanities and Social Sciences in Public Policy Making. London, The British Academy;

Head, Simon, ‘The Grim Threat to British Universities’. The New York Review of Books, 13. Jan. 2011;

Thomas, Keith, ‘Universities under Attack’. The London Review of Books, Online only • 28 Nov. 2011; (The author is a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and former President of the British Academy);

Hansen, Hal, 2011. ‘Rethinking Certification Theory and the Educational Development of the United States and Germany’. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 29:31–55.

Benjamin Ginsberg, 2011. The Fall of the Faculty. Oxford University Press.

Don Watson, ‘A New Dusk’. The Monthly (Australia), August 2012, pp. 10–14; http://www.the

Commission on the Humanities & Social Sciences, 2013. The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a vibrant, competitive, and secure nation. Cambridge, Mass., American Academy of Arts and Sciences;

Randy Schekman, ‘How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science’. The Guardian Mon 9. Dec 2013;[1]

Motroshilova, Nelly, 2013. [Real Factors of Scientific Activity and Citation Count; Russian.] ‘ÐÅÀËÜÍÛÅ ÔÀÊÒÎÐÛ ÍÀÓ×ÍÎ-ÈÑÑËÅÄÎÂÀÒÅËÜÑÊÎÃÎ ÒÐÓÄÀ È ÈÇÌÅ-ÐÅÍÈß ÖÈÒÈÐÎÂÀÍÈß’. Ïðîáëåìû îöåíêè ýôôåêòèâíîñòè â êîíêðåòíûõ îáëàñòÿõ íàóêè, 453–475. ÓÄÊ 001.38 + 519.24; ÁÁÊ 78.34.[2]

Ferrini, Cinzia, 2015. ‘Research “Values” in the Humanities: Funding Policies, Evaluation, and Cultural Resources. Some Introductory Remarks’. Humanities 4:42–67; DOI: 10.3390/ h4010042.[3]

O’Neill, Onora, 2015. ‘Integrity and Quality in Universities: Accountability, Excellence and Success’. Humanities 4:109–117; DOI: 10.3390/h4010109.

Scott, Peter, 2015. ‘Clashing Concepts and Methods: Assessing Excellence in the Humanities and Social Sciences’. Humanities 4:118–130; DOI: 10.3390/h4010118.

Halffman, Willem, and Hans Radder, 2015. ‘The Academic Manifesto: From an Occupied to a Public University’. Minerva 53.2:165–187 (PMC4468800);[4] DOI: 10.1007/s11024-015-9270-9.

Albach, Philip G., Georgiana Mihut and Jamil Salmi, 2016. ‘Sage Advice: International Advisory Councils at Tertiary Education Institutions’. CIHE Perspectives 1; Boston, Mass., Boston College Center for International Higher Education; World Bank Group;

Curren, Randall, 2016. ‘Green’s Predicting Thirty-Five Years On’. In: N. Levinson, ed., Philosophy of Education 2016 (Urbana, Ill.: PES, 2017), 000–000.

The CENTRAL AIMS OF EDUCATION, especially higher education, I explicate and defend in:

Westphal, Kenneth R., 2012. ‘Norm Acquisition, Rational Judgment & Moral Particularism’. Theory & Research in Education 10.1:3–25; DOI: 10.1177/1477878512437477.

———, 2016. ‘Back to the 3 R’s: Rights, Responsibilities & Reasoning’. SATS – Northern European Journal of Philosophy 17.1:21–60; DOI: 10.1515/sats-2016-0008.

On CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION for survival, see:

Randall Curren and Ellen Metzger, 2017. Living Well Now and in the Future: Why Sustainability Matters. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.

Randall Curren and Charles Dorn, forthcoming. Patriotic Education in a Global Age. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Though the latter title begins nationally, addressing proper patriotism, their thinking, analysis and recommendations are international and cosmopolitan; they write for a very global age in which we are all involved, however (un)wittingly, however (un)willingly, however (un)wisely.

On the necessity of liberal arts education also for technical disciplines, see:

Carnegie Mellon University, College of Engineering, General Education Requirements for [Graduating] Classes 2016 and Later:

On ‘BIBLIOMETRICS’ and journal ‘impact factor’, see:

Brembs, Björn, Katherine Button and Marcus Munafò, 2013. ‘Deep impact: unintended consequences of journal rank’. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7.291:1–12; DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291.

Moustafa, Khaled, 2015. ‘The Disaster of the Impact Factor’. Science and Engineering Ethics 21: 139–142; DOI: 10.1007/s11948-014-9517-0.

PloS Medicine Editorial, 2006. ‘The impact factor game. It is time to find a better way to assess the scientific literature’. PLoS Medicine 3.6, e291.

Ramin, Sadeghi, and Alireza Sarraf Shirazi, 2012. ‘Comparison between Impact factor, SCImago journal rank indicator and Eigenfactor score of nuclear medicine journals’. Nuclear Medicine Review 15.2:132–136; DOI: 10.5603/NMR.2011.00022.

There simply is no substitute for informed, considered judgment. All the attempts to circumvent, replace or subvert proper judgments and proper judgment raise the question: who benefits from all the speed-up, distraction and over-load, and how do they benefit? And conversely: who loses out from all the speed-up, distraction and over-load, and how so?

P.S.: AHRENS (1870, v–x) Mahnung, uns umfaßend mit der Gesamtheit der Gesellschaft sowie der internationalen bzw. inter-kulturellen Verhältnissen, und nicht nur mit den besonderen Aufgaben unserer Gesellschaftsfraktion bzw. -gruppe, zu beschäftigen, wird nicht durch blose Ablehnung seiner vielleicht religiösen Auffaßung unserer „gesammten göttlich-menschlichen Lebens- und Culturordnung“ (a.a.O, S. ix) entgangen. Seine Mahnunng gilt gar ohne Milderung schon hinsichtlich unseres Hangs, den Eigen- bzw. Fraktionsinteressen Vorrang übers Gemeinwohl beizulegen, ohne sich zu besinnen, daß das Gemeinwohl auch die eigene Teilhabe daran miteinbeschließt. Die übliche Betonung der eng-konzipierten Zweckrationalität verdammt uns zur gegenseitigen, sei’s auch unabsichtlichen Beieinträchtigung, am Mindestens durch Tragik der Allmende.

* * *

Herrad von LANDSBERG, ‘Septem artes liberales’, Hortus deliciarum (1180).


Philosophy, the Queen, sits in the center of the circle. The three heads extending from her crown represent Ethics, Logic and Physics, the three parts of the teaching of philosophy. The streamer held by Philosophy reads: All wisdom comes from God; only the wise can achieve what they desire. Below Philosophy, seated at desks, are Socrates and Plato. The texts which surround them state that they taught first ethics, then physics, then rhetoric; that they were wise teachers; and that they inquired into nature of all things.

From Philosophy emerge seven streams, three on the right and four on the left. According to the text these are the seven liberal arts, inspired by the Holy Spirit: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. The ring containing the inner circle reads: I, Godlike Philosophy, control all things with wisdom; I lay out seven arts which are subordinate to me. Arrayed around the circle are the liberal arts. Three correspond to the rivers which emerge from Philosophy on the right and are concerned with language and letters: grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. Together they comprise the trivium. The four others form the quadrivium, arts which are concerned with the various kinds of harmony: music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

Each of the seven arts holds something symbolic, and each is accompanied by a text displayed on the arch above it. Grammar (12:00) holds a book and a whip. The text reads: Through me all can learn what are the words, the syllables, and the letters.

Rhetoric (2:00) holds a tablet and stylus. The text reads: Thanks to me, proud speaker, your speeches will be able to take strength.

Dialectic (4:00) points with a one hand and holds a barking dog’s head in the other. The text reads: My arguments are followed with speed, just like the dog’s barking.

Music (5:00) holds a harp, and other instruments are nearby. The text reads: I teach my art using a variety of instruments.

Arithmetic (7:00) holds a cord with threaded beads, like a rudimentary abacus. The text reads: I base myself on the numbers and show the proportions between them.

Geometry (9:00) holds a staff and compass. The text reads: It is with exactness that I survey the ground.

Astronomy (11:00) points heavenward and holds in hand a magnifying lens or mirror. The text reads: I hold the names of the celestial bodies and predict the future. The large ring around the whole scene contains four aphorisms:

What it discovers is remembered;

Philosophy investigates the secrets of the elements and all things;

Philosophy teaches arts by seven branches;

It puts it in writing, in order to convey it to the students.

Below the circle are four men seated at desks, poets or magicians, outside the pale and beyond the influence of Philosophy. According to the text they are guided and taught by impure spirits and they produce is only tales or fables, frivolous poetry, or magic spells. Notice the black birds speaking to them (the antithesis of the white dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit).

Some Observations on the Current State of Research Evaluation in Philosophy

K.R. WESTPHAL (2015)

Although many institutions, whether universities or government ministries, have now in effect mandated publication in ‘listed’ academic journals, such listings by (e.g.) Thompson-Reuters is o n ly a subscription service, nothing more, altogether regardless of academic standards or scholarly calibre. Significant publications are those which pass stringent peer review by relevant experts. Unfortunately, the trappings of such procedures – including ‘international’ editorial offices – are all too easy to imitate or dissemble. Furthermore, due to declining standards in graduate training in philosophy (across the Occident), peer reviewing even at reputable journals and presses is deteriorating significantly.

I know that there are ‘listed’ journals publishing ‘research’ papers I would not accept from an undergraduate student. I know that there are ‘international’ journals which publish materials not deserving the slightest notice. I know there are excellent journals and presses – in particular: by the very best German publishers – which are not ‘listed’ because those publishers simply do not need those listings, nor their expense. I know that there are highly regarded presses which publish very many good, even excellent items, but also publish spates of mediocre books to make money, and have been doing so for decades. These assertions I can document in detail, if ever details be of interest.

The increasingly common procedure to ‘rank’ individual research publications by the purported ‘rank’ of their venue – their press or journal – is in principle and in practice fallacious. There simply is no valid inference from any empirically established ‘curve’ to the putative value of any single (equally putative) ‘data point’. Additionally, no press or journal consistently publishes research falling only within one well-defined calibre; there are excellent pieces of research published in unassuming venues, and there is too much mediocre publication by purportedly leading venues.

I also know that constrictions in funding have led to ‘streamlining’ graduate training within the field of philosophy (and surmise that this is not at all unique to philosophy), so that less time is spent in graduate studies. Additionally, over-specialisation within the field of philosophy has accelerated the production of mutually irrelevant bits of ‘research’, each restricted to its own narrow orthodoxy, coupled with a severe decline in methodological sophistication and indeed basic research skills and procedures. The declining calibre of graduate training has, inevitably, had an enormous adverse effect on the calibre of ‘professional’ refereeing for publication, both by journals and by presses.

Now that we have the technical resources for purely electronic publication, at an enormous savings and economy of distribution in comparison to print media, many publishers are doing their utmost to keep their print media profitable, or to make exorbitant profits from much less expensive electronic publication. Both tendencies are countered, to an extent, by newly established, typically open-access electronic journals. These developments are very welcome and important, and many of these new e-journals are by international standards high-calibre operations. Nevertheless, it will take time for ‘reputation’ to accrue to genuinely deserving e-journals, and (one hopes) to shake out the mediocre or dishonest pretenders.

One final point which merits emphasis is that the notion of ‘monoglot’ scholarship only arose ca. 1950, primarily amongst Anglophones, and was sanctions by law in only one region (the former Soviet Union). Thirty years ago, scholars working on Ancient Greek philosophy were fluent in the main modern European languages and kept abreast of research published in Greek, German, French and English. Now my German colleagues note that often a German monograph appears on a neglected topic in Ancient Greek philosophy, only to suffer neglect by an English book on the same topic published a decade later. The pitfalls of ‘Eurenglish’ (e.g. in Brussels) I shall not detail; we simply must return to teaching, facilitating and expecting mastery of multiple languages.

For these and many other reasons, these are very difficult times for scholarship and for the academy. Accordingly, I am all the more committed to maintaining academic excellence. In this connection and in these regards, I wish to underscore that there simply is NO substitute for the expert assessment of individual pieces of research, whether articles, monographs or collections.

Contact details:

[1] Randy Schekman is Professor of biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley; he, James Rothman and Thomas Südhof were jointly awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.

[2] Editor’s Note – Ironically and appropriately, given the topic of this article, our Digital Editor is unable to render Cyrillic text on any of the computers in the SERRC office in Toronto. These technical difficulties constitute another reason to read Dr. Westphal’s original pdf copy.

[3] Ferrini (2015), O’Neill (2015) and Scott (2015) appear in a special issue, titled per Ferrini’s editorial introduction; Humanities is sponsored by the Academia Europaea, now published with open access by MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, Basel); previously published by Cambridge University Press.

[4] Published by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

Author Information: Andrew Carlin, Manchester Metropolitan University,

Carlin, Andrew. “On the Practical Work of Citation: Foundationalism and (Inter)disciplinary Incommensurability.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 28-40.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:


Image credit: Jef Safi, via flickr

In this response[1] I would like to thank Pamela Moss for her careful attention to my work. I may disappoint readers hoping for some measure of controversy or opposition—Moss has produced a cogent set of arguments in response to my original article. I very much appreciate her comments, and I have followed up her references with profit. There are general and specific areas upon which we both agree.

If I can gloss Moss’ reply, she details instances in my observations on disciplinary borrowings—particularly in relation to Stefan Timmermans’[2] use of David Sudnow’s[3] book Passing On—where I was doing precisely what I suggested Timmermans had being doing with Sudnow. I was making the point that in the case of disciplinary borrowings, authors could do more to account for the epistemological positions of arguments that are taken in support of their current paper. This elicited Moss’ “Tu quoque!” (“You too!”) conclusion:

A more generally relevant expectation might be that the cited articles are fairly represented for the purposes of the citation and that the collected body of articles cited is appropriate to the interpretations and generalizations the citing author is making.[4]

Moss’ critique, that had I outlined both Sudnow’s and Timmermans’ objectives more clearly I may have reached a different conclusion about Timmermans’ use of Sudnow’s work, is fair and one with which I agree—up to a point.

On Referencing as Practical Work

Among the—but for purposes of publication, deliberately unstated—aims of my paper was in advancing a broader consideration of literature measurement systems: bibliometrics, citation analysis, informetrics. A problem for citation analysis is context: what is a particular citation doing at a particular juncture within an article.

In emphasizing the “purposes” of references and citations, Moss confirms my reading of Timmermans’[5] article as oriented towards Sudnow’s book for the substantive field “sociology of death/dying,” what I had called “the ‘reading list’ approach to sociology.”[6] I am not concerned that Moss discerns “many purposes for using the literature within research projects.”[7] Indeed, I am delighted that she recognizes this, for example in my own use of citations within the original paper[8]; so much of the scholarship on citation and referencing misses this key feature of academic writing. Of course I was not suggesting that the main, or the one and only purpose for using the literature is for the surfacing of an identifiable research problem.

The reification of citations as homogenous entities for the practical purposes of counting how many times an author’s work is cited decontextualizes the work being accomplished by the writer of the citing work. As bibliometrics becomes increasingly sophisticated and fragmented—identifying new “edges” of scholarly communication to be operationalized, and new measures for doing the operationalizing[9]—discussions of citation measurement, citation practices and the contextual bases of referencing from outside bibliometry (resisting disciplinary “ownership”) appear less frequently.[10] They are all the more precious in their scarcity.

Without distorting discussion with consideration of members’ motives—“official lists” of these have already appeared in information science[11]—we may observe how references are doing different, practical work. For example, and in no particular order:

  • For purposes of comparison, e.g. to establish that a phenomenon was observed in other settings also.[12] The concatenation of sources or accumulative appeal to other settings may be a form of persuasion (see below)
  • For purposes of comparison, e.g. that related or similar phenomena can be observed in other settings also (including citations of David Sudnow’s “Normal Crimes” paper[13]).
  • For purposes of comparison, e.g. may be positive or negative citations. Often found in literature review sections.[14] For example, references may be cited “to demonstrate the novelty of one’s results. This is often achieved by reviewing the current state of knowledge in an Introduction, and then showing or implying that the findings reported constitute an advance.”[15] (This is also a form of persuasion; see below)
  • Locating arguments—according credit to a previous paper[16]
  • Locating arguments—facilitating information retrieval, so that readers are able to pursue the inquiry into particular points of discussion (as Moss has been able to do in her reply, for instance)
  • Locating arguments—while this relates to according credit it may also work to disclaim responsibility, or spreading the blame; colloquially known as “CYA”[17]
  • Glossing arguments—using citations as “concept symbols”[18]
  • Persuasive devices—as Nigel Gilbert suggests, citations on their own may not be “tools of persuasion”. However, they can do persuasive work. For example, “respected papers may be cited in order to shine in their reflected glory even if they do not seem closely related to the substantive content of the report”[19]
  • “Recipient design”[20]—in submitting a manuscript to a journal, the author tailors some of the arguments, and references, as recognizable to the particular journal under consideration. This may involve having been “socialized” into a particular discipline; or, this may involve considerable guesswork, anticipating what the journal editors/reviewers find acceptable[21]
  • “Doing disciplinarity”—displaying affiliation with particular disciplines, or fields within disciplines. Citing particular bibliographic sets presents the paper as relevant to particular research interests; for example, physical geography but not necessarily human geography
  • Self-citation—this may be doing informative work; though self-citation may be rhetorical or used as an authorization procedure[22]
  • “Doing networking”—displaying membership within a research network[23]; or attempts to affiliate with a particular research network.[24]

This is not an exhaustive list of the work of citations and citation practices; there are considerably more possibilities—demonstrable and reportable—reviewed elsewhere.[25] It was not the remit of my original paper to explore all of these in detail but, suffice to say, I am aware of the complex issues arising from academic requirements and their measurement.[26]

Locating David Sudnow within Ethnomethodology

Whilst I take no umbrage with Moss’ observation that I may be misrepresenting Timmermans’ representation of Sudnow, I am less sanguine about the contextualization of Sudnow’s work—both in Timmermans’ article, and in my own article. This dissatisfaction extends beyond Passing On and across Sudnow’s corpus of studies: I had not sufficiently explained the connections that I recognize as features of Sudnow’s works, taken as a corpus; and how this corpus coheres with the ethnomethodological corpus.[27]

For reasons that may become clear, this is not the venue in which to revisit arguments that were merely glossed by references—as mentioned above, providing citations as glosses for arguments is another use of the literature, of course—in order to explicate my practical reasoning procedures regarding selectivity of items, and corpora, of literature, which are queried by Moss.[28] To borrow Harold Garfinkel’s phrase (that derived from his collaborations with Sudnow), these are “documented conjectures”—from lectures on ethnomethodology, conversations with ethnomethodologists, and my acquaintance with studies from the “ethnomethodological literature.”

One issue that I should have made more explicit is how my original argument was framed within a disciplinary history of ethnomethodology. Passing On was written at a particular juncture in the history of ethnomethodology. In 1966, at University of California, Berkeley, Sudnow and Harvey Sacks were awarded their doctoral qualifications. A group of Goffman’s students had moved away from Goffman’s work intellectually, and increasingly aligned themselves with Harold Garfinkel, then a junior professor at University of California, Los Angeles.[29]

In the acknowledgements section of his PhD dissertation, Sacks does not mention Goffman; instead, Sacks thanked Edwin Shneidman for facilitating access to the telephone calls at the Center for the Scientific Study of Suicide, Suicide Prevention Center, Los Angeles, which he had used as data; and he thanked Garfinkel for financial and intellectual support: “In acknowledging this support of his I may also say that it is but the most tangible and recent item on a long list of indebtedness I have to him.”[30]

Another source of disappointment for Goffman was how Sacks had written a dissertation very different from a ‘more-Goffmanian-style’ manuscript that Sacks had shown him in the early Sixties.[31] As Sacks’ dissertation supervisor, Erving Goffman was reluctant to sign off on Sacks’ doctoral dissertation. Famously, the Chair of the dissertation committee, Aaron Cicourel, intervened to authorize Sacks’ award.

Garfinkel, Goffman, Sacks and Sudnow are all dead, now; we cannot solicit their recollections of 1966. However, the possibility that Goffman resented Garfinkel’s intellectual affinity with his own students is inferentially available. If Goffman did feel this way, or if Sudnow perceived Goffman to be acting on these feelings, we should not be surprised by the sociological program that characterizes Passing On. Sudnow had already published an article critical of the use of data in traditional sociological methods[32]—whatever their considerations of members’ methods might become, Sudnow was contributing to its development.

When Moss[33] decries “I read Sudnow for explicit references to ethnomethodology. I read the preface, the introduction, the conclusion, the appendices, and all the headings and subheadings in the book, and could not find ‘ethnomethodology’ named,” it would have been extremely unlikely for Sudnow to have used the word “ethnomethodology” within the pages of his dissertation as it had only just been coined.[34]

Although Sudnow does refer to ethnomethodology. In answer to Moss’ specific query[35] the prefatory note is not in his dissertation but appears in the Prentice-Hall edition of Passing On:

I have benefited at various points in the conduct of the research from my discussions with Sheldon Messinger, Harvey Sacks, Roy Turner, and Helen Pat Gouldner. An earlier version of Chapter 4 was presented at a conference held by Harold Garfinkel of UCLA in the summer of 1965. My indebtedness to Professor Garfinkel will, I hope, be clear to those who know his work. I do not claim, however, that this study is well representative of ‘ethnomethodological’ sociology, though should that be at all true, I would be very pleased.[36]

One of the key phrases in this acknowledgement is “My indebtedness to Professor Garfinkel will, I hope, be clear to those who know his work.” Unlike Sacks’ acknowledgement of Garfinkel’s influence in his dissertation (above), this does not appear in Sudnow’s dissertation. It is a “noticeable absence”; and “those who know his work” recognize this as a noticeable absence.

The field-specificity of Passing On is not only available through the citations it contains.

“Epistemologies at the Disciplinary Level”:[37] Indifference and Incommensurability

Despite the ritualistic citations to Goffman contained in his thesis, Sudnow was part of the “ethnomethodological firmament”. As mentioned above, he had already published an “ethnomethodological” study[38]; and, after Passing On was published, he was a key advocate of ethnomethodology in an infamous panel discussion to debate its disciplinary place in sociology.[39]

A decade later, at Garfinkel’s encouragement, he published an ethnomethodological study of competence—playing jazz piano—that can be seen as an early expression of Garfinkel’s “studies of work” program. Garfinkel’s procedural policy of “ethnomethodological indifference,” which discouraged literature use as a formulaic requirement of studies, made it possible for Sudnow “to realize the consequences of allowing the keyboard, and not an academic discipline, to tell me where to go.”[40]

To reiterate, my detailing of Sudnow’s books and papers in the original article were not geared toward idle recitation of references but were warranted by the reticulation of intellectual concerns that made up the corpus of Sudnow’s work, and how these cohered with the developing corpus of ethnomethodological studies. This is but one of the instances of item of literature/corpus of literature to which I was referring in the original arguments, and which Moss found problematic. Yet I make no apologies for reading Sudnow this way. However, Sudnow disputed Garfinkel’s presentation of “ethnomethodological indifference.”[41]

As a methodological policy, qua phenomenological bracketing, ethnomethodological indifference enabled the analyst to focus on a phenomenon without the distraction of “related literature,” which both set the “terms and determinations”[42] of the analysis and necessarily distanced the analyst from the phenomenon of interest. Sudnow appreciated how non-ethnomethodologists could understand “ethnomethodological indifference” as code for a Weberian attitude of “value-free” inquiry; even “objectivity” (something which, following Felix Kaufmann[43] on the protocols and standards of acceptability in social science, Garfinkel did not intend); or worse, for Sudnow, as being “indifferent” to iniquities and inequalities.[44]

To be clear, “ethnomethodological indifference” was not an ethical (or non-ethical) position but a methodological procedure. Even though Garfinkel’s work is characterized by a compassionate advocacy of those in adversity[45]—Garfinkel certainly was not indifferent to circumstances—Sudnow would never reconcile himself to what he regarded as a significant error of judgement on Garfinkel’s part.[46]

Ethnomethodologists have not been shy of taking up traditional sociological topics, such as racism, power, and inequality. It is a misrepresentation of ethnomethodological investigations to claim otherwise. That ethnomethodology has addressed topics in different ways is undeniable, however; yet this is not the same as being “indifferent” to such matters. As I said in my original article,[47] for instance, power has been approached as an in situ, collaborative activity.[48] This is to be contrasted with traditional representations of power in anthropological and sociological approaches.[49] Moreover, the topical relevance of studies brings me to another note of contention for Moss, regarding the appropriateness of the word “traditional” as a generalizing description of sociology.

My use of the word “traditional” does not connote “classical,” as Moss assumes in questioning its contemporary relevance.[50] “Traditional” does not compartmentalize work in pro tempore or chronological fashion. “Traditional” is not setting an arbitrary temporal marker between, say, Nineteenth Century sociology, or pre-War sociology, or pre-Nineteen Sixties sociology; versus Postmodern sociology, post-Nineteen Seventies Sociology, or Twenty-First Century sociology. Not at all. My use of the word “traditional,” as I have consistently used it, reflects or has equivalence with “professional sociological theorizing,” or “constructive analysis” (and, later, “formal analysis”). However, I should recognize—and I thank Moss for drawing this to my attention—that these were and remain contentious adjectives, too.

To clarify my use of terms, “traditional” is intended to disambiguate forms of sociology, as “professional sociological theorizing,” in contrast to “radical” forms of sociology which seek to explicate members’ practical sociological theorizing. Abbott’s fractals analogy, which he uses to emphasise the fluidity of conceptual development,[51] does not address this.[52] Nor, to use Moss’ other example,[53] does Actor-Network-Theory (ANT).[54]

Moss’ specific question reads, “is ethnomethodology incommensurable with ANT in the same way it might be incommensurable [with] traditions reflecting the structure-agency dualism?” A short answer is “Yes.”[55] The structure/agency dualism is implicated in foundational forms of theorizing, which both Abbott[56] and Latour[57] reproduce. In taking a methodologically ironic stance vis-à-vis members’ practical decision-making activities they fail to dissolve the tensions set up by foundational theories. Moss draws attention to Bruno Latour, who “acknowledges [ANT’s] affinities with ethnomethodology,”[58] but how does Latour go about such acknowledgement? Through citation of “ethnomethodological” resources; and here we may return to the ad hoc list of work done through referencing, above.

Furthermore, a key criterion remarking “incommensurability” is the gestalt configuration of analytic approaches. Ethnomethodology seeks to explicate the in situ, in vivo, practical work of members’ activities. In striving towards such explication, the ethnomethodologist cannot be beholden to “foundational” (e.g. Cartesian) formal analytic positions because these theorize out the very praxeological details that are being sought. Hence, ethnomethodology “dissolves” foundational residue, such as the structure/agency dichotomy, as interference with the description of members’ practices. Likewise, Actor-Network-Theory proposes an unnecessary analytic distancing from members’ phenomena. As Sormani asks,

why ‘ontologize’? Why, as an ethnographer, ‘ontologize, ‘epistemologize’, or otherwise ‘theorize’ phenomena, instead of describing them in their self-identifying features?[59]

The ontological fetishism of ANT removes the analyst further from the distinctive details which are not only constituent features of practice, what Sudnow[60] once termed “describably elegant knowledge,” but are practice; whether that be managing the interactional work of running an auction, professional coffee tasting, or playing jazz piano.

The plenitude of references to ethnomethodology within the Latour text cited by Moss are footnoted asides to relevant sources,[61] not to necessarily commensurable sources. That is, Latour takes a “found relevance” approach to his citation of ethnomethodological sources, e.g. in his example of the user manual that came with the new digital camera[62] he references Garfinkel’s[63] discussion of assembling furniture according to the instructions. He collocates this citation to Garfinkel with reference to Donald Norman[64] on user-centred design. The cognitivism of Norman’s thesis is at odds with the praxeological line of argument advanced by Garfinkel—these are incommensurable approaches, that become proximal citations via a reading-list approach to substantive topics, but readers familiar with Norman and with Garfinkel are unlikely to be confused as to the “found relevance” or nature of Latour’s use of literature. Latour’s practices of citation are unremarkable, routine, and certainly do not suggest that ANT possesses analytic affinities with ethnomethodology.

Although, there are distinct differences, too. Moss is correct, I think, in speculating whether the nature of incommensurability—between ethnomethodology and various forms of sociology—differs, and this is a valuable point to explore. For instance, Latour[65] claims overlap with ethnomethodology regarding the notion of “accounts”. However, for Latour, accounts are reasons, justifications, verifications, excuses; in environments of uncertainty, accounts justify the certainty of action, e.g. as adequate or plausible in the circumstances. For ethnomethodology, actions—textual, verbal or otherwise—are accounts.

The give-away is Latour’s[66] epistemological contrast between natural science accounts and social science accounts: “This is why the question of what is a good account is so much more crucial for the social than for the natural sciences”[67]; and later in the same chapter, this is transformed into “a good text.”[68] For ethnomethodology, there are “accounts” but there is no continuum for adjudging the adequacy or plausibility of accounts, such as “a good account”; that is a member’s concept, not an analytic category. Latour’s notion of “account” has more in common with a symbolic interactionist notion of account[69] than ethnomethodology.

Indeed, while I regard Moss’ query about incommensurability as a valuable pedagogic opportunity it also seems misdirected, given that Latour[70] distances himself from Garfinkel’s gloss “formal analysis.” Garfinkel used the term formal analysis to sharpen the focus of his distinction between incommensurable approaches in sociology—what (as mentioned above) he had termed “constructive analysis”—and incommensurable approaches in the social sciences more broadly. Latour[71] misquotes Garfinkel, and through misquotation, understates Garfinkel’s original distinction, the “worldwide social science movement.” Garfinkel began to use formal analysis in preference to constructive analysis in order to emphasize that sociology was only one discipline among many which misaligned its phenomena of inquiry with analysts’ versions of members’ methods.[72]

Furthermore, while Moss[73] posits “affinities” between ANT and ethnomethodology, Latour’s claims on this matter are shallow. Latour’s attempted connection between “the quality of a text”[74] and the “unique adequacy requirement of methods”[75] does not set up “equivalence.”[76] The unique adequacy requirement, like ethnomethodological indifference, is a methodological policy. Like ethnomethodological indifference, the unique adequacy requirement does not distance the researcher from the phenomenon of inquiry. It thus distinguishes between studies of work that describe and produce phenomena of investigation.[77],[78]

I take Moss’ query regarding incommensurability seriously, and suggest that both the structure/agency dualism and ANT are incommensurable with ethnomethodology through producing “methodological irony”. Both foundational reasoning (e.g. theorizing which is an outcome or based upon a structure/agency dualism) and ANT preclude a praxeological orientation as an accountable, constitutive feature of research ab initio. The post hoc incorporation and/or triangulation of members’ practices creates conceptual confusion and category-errors. This characteristic of ANT and its formulation as a blend of ethnomethodology and semiotics is fundamentally flawed as a praxeological pursuit, regardless of Latour’s claims—and his referential practices—to the contrary.[79] As vividly formulated in another context,

These sets of analytic practices cannot be conflated any more than can the games of football and tennis be conflated to produce a ‘supergame.’[80]

In studies involving human action, both ANT and studies in foundationalist programs require the analyst to make the final (if analytically arbitrary) decision as to what is really going on. As Lynch argues, “the theorist’s monism frames the heterogeneous ontologies attributed to actors within the frame.”[81]

In summary, if I was setting up a “contrast set”—to borrow Dorothy Smith’s[82] phrase—it was between traditional sociology, which as I have hoped to clarify does not connote a temporal characterization but an epistemological characterization vis-à-vis members’ practices; and radical sociology, which seeks to explicate members’ practices without re-describing them in terms of analytically imposed categories.


In trying to provide an overall view, however, I want to emphasize that the ethnomethodological position on foundationalism (and anti-foundationalism) is methodological, not epistemological, philosophical, or theoretical. Indeed, much of the contestation of this issue has been quarried through the distortion or misunderstanding of ethnomethodology’s position as an epistemological rather than a methodological approach to the phenomena of sociology.[83] The “identifying details” of studies in ANT and Cartesian investigations vary, yes; and the respective identifying details have specific consequences for the realization of incommensurability.

Yet this should not distract us from the difficulties of programs of interdisciplinarity: intra-disciplinary approaches within sociology have a wide degree of “autonomy,”[84] which challenges assumptions of disciplinary coherence, let alone interdisciplinarity.[85]

Nor should this distract us from assembling a corpus of studies that instead of taking an evaluative approach to members’ phenomena, extrinsic to the settings of members’ practices; develops inquiries that seek to explicate members’ practices from within the settings in which they occur.


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Blackman, Lisa. “Social Media and the Politics of Small Data: Post-Publication Peer Review and Academic Value.” Theory, Culture and Society 33, no. 4 (2016): 3-26.

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Cicourel, Aaron V. The Social Organization of Juvenile Justice. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc, 1968.

Douglas, Jack D. The Social Meanings of Suicide. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Falagas, Matthew E. and Panorea Kavvadia. “‘Eigenlob’: Self-Citation in Biomedical Journals.” The FASEB Journal 20 (2006): 1039-1042.

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Garfinkel, Harold. “Color Trouble.” In Primer for White Folks, edited by Bucklin Moon, 269-286. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1946.

Garfinkel, Harold. “Passing and the Managed Achievement of Sex Status in an Intersexed Person.” In Studies in Ethnomethodology, 118-185. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967.

Garfinkel, Harold. “Instructions and Instructed Actions.” In Ethnomethodology’s Program: Working Out Durkheim’s Aphorism, edited by Anne W. Rawls, 197-218. Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

Garfinkel, Harold and D. Lawrence Wieder. “Two Incommensurable, Asymmetrically Alternate Technologies Of Social Analysis.” In Text in Context: Contributions to Ethnomethodology, edited by Graham Watson and Robert M. Seiler, 175-206. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992.

Gilbert, G. Nigel. “Referencing as Persuasion.” Social Studies of Science 7, no. 1 (1977): 113-122.

Glaser, Barney G. and Anselm L. Strauss. The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Chicago: Aldine, 1967.

Greiffenhagen, Christian, Michael Mair, and Wes Sharrock. “Methodological Troubles as Problems and Phenomena: Ethnomethodology and the Question of ‘Method’ in the Social Sciences.” The British Journal of Sociology 66, no. 3 (2015): 460-485.

Hellsten, Iina, Renaud Lambiotte, Andrea Scharnhorst, and Marcel Ausloos. “Self-Citations, Co-Authorships and Keywords: A New Approach to Scientists’ Field Mobility?” Scientometrics 72, no. 3 (2007): 469-486.

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Kaufman, Felix. The Methodology of the Social Sciences. London: Oxford University Press, 1944.

Kozak, Marcin and Lutz Bornmann. “A New Family of Cumulative Indexes for Measuring Scientific Performance.” PLoS ONE 7, no. 10 (2012): e47679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047679.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Livingston, Eric. Ethnomethodological Foundations of Mathematics. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986.

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Sudnow, David. Passing On: The Social Organization of Dying. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967.

Sudnow, David 1972. “Temporal Parameters of Interpersonal Observation.” In Studies in Social Interaction, edited by David Sudnowm 259-279. New York: The Free Press, 1972.

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[1]. I am grateful to Glenn Gillespie at UC Berkeley Libraries, for factual clarification; and especially to Rod Watson, for generous discussion of these issues, and for alerting me to analytic asymmetries within this Response.

[2]. Timmermans, “Social Death as Self-fulfilling Prophecy.”

[3]. Sudnow, Passing On.

[4]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 53.

[5]. Timmermans, “Social Death as Self-fulfilling Prophecy.”

[6]. Carlin, “On Some Limits of Interdisciplinarity,” 5.

[7]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 47.

[8]. Ibid.

[9]. Kozak and Bornmann, “A New Family of Cumulative Indexes for Measuring Scientific Performance.”

[10]. Bittner, “Citation Classic Commentary on ‘The Police on Skid Row”; Blackman, “Social Media and the Politics of Small Data”; Hertz, “Pimp My Fluff”; Stavrakakis, “Wallon, Lacan and the Lacanians.”

[11]. E.g. Bornmann et al., “What Factors Determine Citation Counts of Publications in Chemistry Besides their Quality?”; Weinstock, “Citation Indexes.”

[12]. Glaser and Strauss, The Discovery of Grounded Theory, 169, passim.

[13]. Cavan, Liquor License, 18; Cicourel, The Social Organization of Juvenile Justice, 55.

[14]. Carlin, “On Some Limits of Interdisciplinarity.”

[15]. Gilbert, “Referencing as Persuasion,” 116.

[16]. Merton, “Priorities In Scientific Discovery.”

[17]. Raymond L. Gold, personal communication.

[18]. Small, “Cited Documents as Concept Symbols.”

[19]. Gilbert, “Referencing as Persuasion,” 116.

[20]. Sacks and Schegloff, “Two Preferences in the Organization of Reference to Persons in Conversation and their Interaction.”

[21]. Myers, Writing Biology.

[22]. Falagas and Kavvadia, “‘Eigenlob’”; Fowler and Aksnes, “Does Self-Citation Pay?”

[23]. Hellsten et al., “Self-Citations, Co-Authorships and Keywords.”

[24]. Note for sociologists: this is a literal “reference group”!

[25]. E.g. Bornmann and Daniel, “What do Citation Counts Measure?”

[26]. Boellstorff, “Submission and Acceptance.”

[27]. Sudnow, Passing On.

[28]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 46.

[29]. Pace Moss (2016, 49), in my original article (Carlin 2016, 14, n. 13) I was clear that Erving Goffman, not Harold Garfinkel, was Sudnow’s dissertation supervisor.

[30]. Sacks, “The Search for Help,” ii.

[31]. This early manuscript was known informally as “the Police Paper” (Schegloff 1999), which Sudnow went on to publish (Sacks 1972).

[32]. Indeed, Sudnow’s “Normal Crimes” paper was described as one of “The most significant works on this subject” (Douglas, The Social Meanings of Suicide, 163).

[33]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 49.

[34]. Bittner, “The Concept of Organization.”

[35]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 49.

[36]. Sudnow, Passing On, v.

[37]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[38]. Sudnow, “Normal Crimes.”

[39]. Hill and Crittenden, Proceedings of the Purdue Symposium on Ethnomethodology.

[40]. Sudnow, Ways of the Hand, viii.

[41]. Sudnow, “An Ethno-autobiography of Teaching.”

[42]. Bittner, “The Concept of Organization,” 247.

[43]. Kaufmann, The Methodology of the Social Sciences.

[44]. Sudnow, “An Ethno-autobiography of Teaching.”

[45]. Garfinkel, “Color Trouble,” “Passing and the Managed Achievement of Sex Status in an Intersexed Person,” and “Instructions and Instructed Actions.”

[46]. Sudnow, “An Ethno-autobiography of Teaching.”

[47]. Carlin, “On Some Limits of Interdisciplinarity,” 14.

[48]. Sharrock and Button, “The Technical Operations of the Levers of Power.”

[49]. Moerman, “Life after C.A.”

[50]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[51]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[52]. My citation of Abbott’s work reiterates the variegated use of sources, as I had, for the purposes of the original article, only selected Abbott to establish the long-standing nature of interdisciplinarity. My citation was certainly not an endorsement of the book in toto, though many studies in citation analysis fail to disambiguate negative from positive citations, i.e. treat all citations as homogenous.

[53]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[54]. Latour, Reassembling the Social.

[55]. However, this direct affirmative shall be qualified below.

[56]. Abbott, Chaos of Disciplines.

[57]. Latour, Reassembling the Social.

[58]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[59]. Sormani, Respecifying Lab Ethnography, 234.

[60]. Hill and Crittenden, Proceedings of the Purdue Symposium on Ethnomethodology, 51.

[61]. E.g. footnotes 22, 49, 63, 97 in Latour, Reassembling the Social.

[62]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 205.

[63]. Garfinkel, “Instructions and Instructed Actions.”

[64]. Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things.

[65]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 205.

[66]. Ibid., 125.

[67]. Ibid., emphasis added.

[68]. Ibid., 129.

[69]. Scott and Lyman, “Accounts.”

[70]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 226.

[71]. Ibid., fn. 312.

[72]. A pedagogical heuristic of this argument is the phenomenological emphasis on distinguishing between resources for study and topics of study (Zimmerman and Pollner 1970).

[73]. Moss, “Reading and Writing Across (Epistemological) Boundaries,” 52.

[74]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 129.

[75]. Garfinkel and Wieder, “Two Incommensurable, Asymmetrically Alternate Technologies Of Social Analysis.”

[76]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, fn. 182.

[77]. Livingston, Ethnomethodological Foundations of Mathematics; Lynch, Art and Artifact in Laboratory Science.

[78]. Vide another example of the practical work of citation: Latour cites both of these studies of work in Reassembling the Social (pp. 59, 223) also; but he points to different relevances in citing them than I do in citing them together here.

[79]. Latour, Reassembling the Social, 122.

[80]. Watson, “The Understanding of Language Use in Everyday Life,” 11.

[81]. Lynch, “Ontography,” 453.

[82]. Smith, “‘K is Mentally Ill’.”

[83]. Francis and Sharrock, “Where Ethnomethodology Stands.”

[84]. Sharrock and Watson, “Autonomy among Social Theories: The Incarnation of Social Structures.”

[85]. In my original article, I cited the demonstration of this problem (Greiffenhagen, Mair and Sharrock, “Methodological Troubles as Problems and Phenomena”), which, in its demonstration, attends to the “identifying details” of the autonomy of sociological strategies.