Patterns in “the most cited works in sociology, 2012 edition”

According to Neal at Scatterplot, here are the most cited sociological books and articles of 2012:


This is an interesting list. Three of the patterns in the data:

So, one in 33 articles cites Distinction. The majority at the top of the list are books along with a pair each from AJS, ASR and the Annual Review, along with one article from Social Forces. The authors and titles are truncated by Web of Science, so don’t blame me. Remember that the lists only counts citations in this group of sociology journals, so being famous in other worlds doesn’t get you on the list.

Fun fact: 2/3 of things that were cited last year were only cited once, and 95% of things cited were cited less than five times. And, unless one of your articles was cited nine or more times in one of these journals last year, you can consider yourself, like me, one of the 99%.

One thing that struck me was how old everything  on this top list was. The median publication year in the top 100 was 1992. Of the top 100, only one piece was published in the last five years.

A few other things stuck out to me from this list:

1. The list involves a number of big name sociologists. I assume they became big names because of the quality of their work, such as in the pieces cited here, but how much could it be that the works are cited more because they came from big names? There is some interesting work that could be done here with individual pieces to look at patterns of citations and how works become well-known.

2. There are several more methodological pieces on the list. The Raudenbush and Bryk 2002 book involves hierarchical linear modeling, a technique that uses multiple equations to nest individual cases within larger groups (like students within schools in the sociology of education). The Strauss and Glaser 1967 book is about the basics of grounded theory, a technique that has been adopted across a variety of qualitative studies. The Steensland et al. 2000 piece is about developing the measure RELTRAD which more effectively categorizes Americans into religious traditions. These methodological works have wide applications and were influential across a variety of subfields.

3. Could we interpret a list like this as one that tell us the “classic works” of sociology today? Could we hand a list like this to undergraduate majors or graduate students and tell them that this is what they need to know to understand the broader field? One way to check on this would be to compare the top cited works year to year to see how much the list changes and how consistently important these works are. Presumably, new works will be added to the list over time but this may not happen quickly.

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