Global Reputation: An Inquiry into the Question of Why Jurgen Habermas Is a Global Household Name and Niklas Luhmann Is Not

Thursday, 14 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 30 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Christian MORGNER, University of Leicester, United Kingdom
In 1987, Michèle Lamont posed the question of how one becomes a dominant philosopher. His answer to this question formulates criteria for the quality of scholarly work.

The main drawback of this approach is that it reconstructs an already successful author’s career, formulating criteria through a backward narrative. After all, there were many outspoken and critical French philosophers in the 1960s. In addition, most of Lamont’s data are restricted and anecdotal, relying on biographies and a small, random sample of interviews.

This study uses contrasting cases of two social scientist or philosophers: Jurgen Habermas and Niklas Luhmann. Both authors share a similar post-war German biography and publication record, and both developed a grand, complex social theory. However, Habermas has gained a large following, whereas Luhmann’s work has remained a luxury shared by a few scholars. A large bibliometric database, using the Web of Science, was created primarily of patterns of reception, from quantitative and qualitative perspectives. These analyses revealed that, for instance, reception does not follow a linear process, in which a few initial scholars convince others and those persuade even more, but instead, at first, a quite erratic path. Furthermore, only a few works appear to underpin the reputation of particular authors. Using text mining, analysis of titles, abstracts and keywords suggests that external events (e.g. the Eastern bloc) triggered waves of success. A detailed analysis of top papers citing Habermas shows that these shifted from content-driven citation to merely standardised citation in later years.

These findings suggest a much more complex picture of global reputations driven by external events, the Matthew effect and formulaic citations of certain authors. Overall, these results suggest that Lamont and others’ analysis needs to be revised using more sophisticated tools to track global reputation patterns.