Schools of Thought in the Republic of Social Science
In an incisive analysis of academic tribalism, Stephen Balch (2004) argues that schools of thought can be catalysts or barriers to disciplinary inquiry, depending on the institutional setting. He cites physics, chemistry, and mathematics as fields in which competing schools of thought generally enhance the marketplace of ideas by increasing the scope and value of intellectual exchange (ibid., 2). Balch deems these disciplines “collegial” because, though “rivalries exist among hypotheses and investigators, there is general agreement on the means of resolving them and a strong sense of shared intellectual mission” which enable “internalized checks” to “keep things on the straight and narrow” (ibid., 4). By contrast, Balch describes the social sciences and humanities as “adversarial disciplines” in which paradigmatic rivalries “shade into enmities, bear heavily on methods of verification as well as the substance of disputes, involve judgments of value as well as of fact, often reveal an absence of shared mission, and produce results whose employment outside academe is very frequently polemical” (ibid., 4). In these contexts, schools become impediments to “serious academic discourse about the human condition” (ibid., 2) as the collegial ideal of a “free and open marketplace of ideas” (ibid., 1) gives way to balkanized disciplines “divided into enduring factions whose partisans frequently treat their opponents more as foes than colleagues” (ibid., 4).
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