Conceptual Retention in Epistemic Communities: Examining the Role of Social Structure
This paper proposes a theoretical mechanism by which the social structure of an epistemic community will influence the conceptual choices that members of the community make when investigating and communicating novel knowledge claims. It is argued that in structurally cohesive communities members have an incentive to rely on well-established, broadly recognized concepts, while in more fractured communities there are greater incentives for individuals to use more idiosyncratic constructions. The mechanism is tested on data collected from two topics in the study of physics: d-branes and supermassive black holes. Results indicate some support for the argument that communities with greater global cohesion, as measured by a low degree of local social clustering, tend to draw more heavily on concepts that are already established in the community.