International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Who Killed Rural Sociology? A Case Study in the Political Economy of Knowledge Production

International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Volume 17, issue 1 (2010), pages 72-88

Author: William H. Friedland
Affiliation: Sociology Department, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, USA

ISSN: 0798-1759


Abstract

Rural sociology is examined as a case study in the social forces that shape and direct the production of knowledge. Knowledge production is viewed as the product of the nexus of three sets of forces. First, there are the rewards and punishments of any system of social control. While knowledge is produced under very different conditions than other commodities, concrete products (‘research’) are produced in a social milieu and in response to distinct forces. Forces that pull research in particular directions are represented by the availability of research funds and the clarity by which certain types of research are regarded as more important than others. Pushes are represented not only by the unavailability of research funds but also by discouragement of certain research trajectories. These range from friendly advice by senior faculty to graduate students, to impediments in career development, to active persecution. Second, the system of social control is embedded in an institutional network within which knowledge production occurs. Rural sociology is centrally linked to a clearly delineated institutional network composed of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the land-grant college complex. This complex constitutes a dense institutional network influencing the knowledge production system directly. Third, rural sociology is influenced by its institutional relationship to sociology as a discipline. In this case, as long as it does not involve the mission orientation of the subdiscipline (e.g. the pushes and pulls), the general discipline has effects on what can be termed the ‘autonomy’ of knowledge production within rural sociology.

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