Sociologists Everywhere: Inequality in the World Science System

This is based on our article, “Sociologists everywhere: Country representation in conferences hosted by the International Sociological Association, 1990–2012,” published in Current Sociology.

The Unequal World Science System

In general terms, the World Science System (WSS) refers to the economic, political and social factors involved in the production and distribution of, and access to, scientific knowledge on a global scale. The structure of this system is characterized by various kinds of inequalities (Beigel 2014; Patel 2014) some of which last for decades (Martin 2012: 833 -36; Mosbah-Natanson and Gingras 2014). Theoretically, the deep and persistent inequalities within the WSS manifest as a core-periphery system in which privileged, Western countries dominate (Alatas 2003). Recognition of the unequal WSS has led to initiatives – both inside and outside of ISA – that are designed to call wider attention to this issue and promote inequality-reduction policies (Beigel 2014: 619-621).

Empirical studies on inequality across the WSS tend to focus on publishing and on cross-national scientific collaborations (Bentley 2015; Mosbah-Natanson and Gingras 2014; Wagner and Wong 2011). Professional events – conferences, world congresses, forums and similar meetings that feature face-to-face interaction of scholars from across the world – are also vital to the WSS (Godin 1998; Glanzel et al 2006).

Regarding sociology, attendance at international scientific events is important for three reasons. The first deals with production of knowledge. Sociological knowledge, as recorded in academic journals, builds on the presentation of papers at international scientific conferences (Glanzel et al 2006; Godin 1998; Lisee, Larivière and Archambault 2008). The second reason pertains to the processes of scholarly learning and collaboration. Sociologists gain the opportunity to learn from, and connect to, scholars from different countries with whom they do not regularly interact; this spurs creativity and forms the foundation for new scientific collaborations. Third, sociologists gain access to the personal networking that is intrinsic to professional development and status building. Attending international conferences is important in the building and evaluation of academic careers.

In the article recently published in Current Sociology, we focused in-depth on the International Sociological Association (ISA) to examine inequality in attendance at its flagship conferences. The extent to which ISA’s flagship conferences – the quadrennial World Congress and the mid-term Forum – have successfully included sociologists from all over the world is an open empirical question.

Inequality and the International Sociological Association

We ask, To what extent do countries differ with respect to the number of scholars attending ISA conferences? and What factors drive attendance? As is the case with other WSS elements, we argue that scholarly involvement in international social science events is characterized by unequal cross-national representation.

We develop a set of hypotheses based on the economic, political and social dimensions that likely influence country representation. To test them, we created a dataset containing information on 212 countries and their participation in eight ISA conferences – World Congresses and Forums – held from 1990 to 2012. The data on attendance were generously provided by ISA. One can note that, for the eight conferences between 1990 and 2012, ten countries lead in terms of total number of participants: USA (3,678); UK (1,952); Germany (1,898); Spain (1,811); Canada (1,594); Brazil (1,482); Australia (1,293); France (1,250); Italy (929) and Argentina (884). Figure 1 illustrates participation from 1990 to 2012 by world regions.


Figure 1. Number of participants at International Sociological Association events, 1990-2012

isa country representation

While ISA focuses on economic factors to reduce this inequality – most notably in their A, B, C membership and conference fee schema – we also include political and economic factors. We measure economy with GDP per capita. Political factors are measured with the level of democracy. We argue that greater civil liberties and political rights are usually accompanied by more academic freedom to carry out research and to travel abroad. For social factors, we consider that countries’ participation in large-scale international research projects, such as the major cross-national public opinion surveys, is a reasonable indicator of the social science research infrastructure. Country representation in cross-national public opinion surveys (such as the World Values Survey) is very uneven due to economic and political reasons and reflects the strength of national-level social science research infrastructure required for active participation in such projects (Slomczynski and Tomescu-Dubrow 2006; see also Lynn et al 2006: 12-13; on the importance of cross-national data for ISA internationalization, see Platt 1998: 47).

What We Find

Results from a series of statistical analyses show that a country’s GDP, level of democracy and social science research infrastructure (SSRI) substantially determine their level of representation. SSRI effects are significant above and beyond that of GDP, and of other controls. At the same time, we also find a meaningful decrease of representation inequality according to countries’ GDP for the period 1990 – 2010.

We do not suggest that ISA purposively excludes sociologists from certain countries. On the contrary, the history of the organization shows clearly that the ISA has always been aware of the unequal representation of scholars at its events, and has sought ways to address this problem. Yet, inequality endures. The ISA, as well as key actors in the WSS of the social sciences, should acknowledge the resilient nature of this phenomenon and contend with it.


Alatas, Syed Farid. 2003. “Academic Dependency and the Global Division of Labour in the Social Sciences.” Current Sociology 51(6): 599 – 613.

Beigel, Fernanda. 2014. “Introduction: Current Tensions and Trends in the World Scientific System.” Current Sociology 62(5): 617 – 625.

Bentley, Peter James. 2015. “Cross-country Differences in Publishing Productivity of Academics and Research Universities.” Scientometrics 102: 865 – 883.

Calloids, Francoise and Laurent Jeanpierre. 2010. “General Introduction,” pp. 1 – 6 in World Social Science Report 2010: Knowledge Divides. UNESCO Publishing.

Dubrow, Joshua Kjerulf, Marta Kolczynska, Kazimierz M. Slomczynski and Irina Tomescu-Dubrow. “Sociologists Everywhere: Country Representation in Conferences Hosted by the International Sociological Association, 1990 to 2012.” Forthcoming in Current Sociology. [authors contributed equally and listed alphabetically]

Glanzel, Wolfgang, Balazs Schlemmer, Andras Schubert and Bart Thus. 2006. “Proceedings Literature as Additional Data Source for Bibliometric Analysis.” Scientometrics 68(3): 457 – 473.

Godin, B. 1998. “Measuring Knowledge Flows between Countries: The Use of Scientific Meeting Data.” Scientometrics 42(3): 313 – 323.

Keim, Wiebke. 2011. “Counterhegemonic Currents and Internationalization of Sociology: Theoretical Reflections and an Empirical Example.” International Sociology 26(1): 123 – 145.

Lisee, Cynthia, Vincent Larivière and Éric Archambault. 2008. “Conference Proceedings as a Source of Scientific Information: A Bibliometric Analysis.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 59(11): 1776 – 1784.

Leydesdorff, Loet and Caroline Wagner. 2009. “Is the United States Losing Ground in Science? A Global Perspective on the World Science System.” Scientometrics 78(1): 23 – 36.

Lynn, Peter. Lilli Japec and Lars Lyberg. 2006. “What’s So Special about Cross-National Surveys?” pp. 7 – 20 in Conducting Cross-National and Cross-Cultural Surveys edited by Janet Harkness. Germany: GESIS.

Martin, Eloise. 2012. “Making Sociology Current through International Publication: A Collective Task.” Current Sociology 60(6): 832-37.

Mosbah-Natanson, Sebastien, and Yves Gingras. 2014. “The globalization of social sciences? Evidence from a quantitative analysis of 30 years of production, collaboration and citations in the social sciences (1980 – 2009).” Current Sociology 62(5): 626-646.

Patel, Sujata. 2014. “Afterword: Doing Global Sociology: Issues, Problems and Challenges.” Current Sociology 62(4): 603 – 613.

Platt, Jennifer. 1998. A Brief History of the ISA: 1948 – 1997. International Sociological Association.

Rostan, Michele. 2010. “Challenges to Academic Freedom: Some Empirical Evidence.” European Review 18(1):71 – 88.

Schubert, A., S. Zsindley, and T. Bruan. 1983. “Scientometric Analysis of Attendance at International Scientific Meetings.” Scientometrics 5(3): 177 – 187.

Slomczynski, Kazimierz M. and Irina Tomescu-Dubrow. 2006. “Representation of European Post-Communist Countries in Cross-National Public Opinion Surveys.” Problems of Post-Communism 53 (4): 42-52.

Wagner, Caroline S. and Shing Kit Wong. 2011. “Unseen Science? Representation of BRICs in Global Science.” Scientometrics 90:1001 – 1013.

World Social Science Report. 2010. Knowledge Divides. UNESCO Publishing.

This article was prepared by Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow, Marta Kolczynska, Kazimierz M. Slomczynski and Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Cross-national Studies: Interdisciplinary Research and Training program (, The Ohio State University and the Polish Academy of Sciences.

We thank ISA for providing the data on attendance to ISA events and current ISA President Margaret Abraham for encouraging our project. Versions of this research was presented at events of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) of the Higher School of Economics in Russia, and we are grateful for their comments.


Dynamic Class and Stratification in Poland

A new book, Dynamic Class and Stratification in Poland, forthcoming from CEU Press, takes the long view. Written by a team of authors from the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, including Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Kazimierz M. Slomczynski, Henryk Domanski, Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow, Zbigniew Sawinski, and Dariusz Przybysz, this book is about changes to the social structure in Poland from the Communist era to the present. We, the authors, focus on class and stratification, two key facets of the social structure that best explain, as Gerhard Lenski famously put it, “who gets what and why.”

Our core concepts are rooted in the classic sociological literature on class and stratification, in Poland and abroad. We define class as occupationally-based groups that maneuver within the economic markets. Classes principally revolve around ownership relations and control over labor, including skills. Defining stratification as structured inequality with respect to scarce and valued resources, we focus on formal education, occupational rank, and job income.

Dynamic social structure begs the question: If stratification refers to enduring inequalities, how are social stratification structures simultaneously stable and dynamic? We argue that even during extreme societal transformations, key features of social life, class especially, have long-lasting, stratifying effects. Similarly, mechanisms of differentiation embedded in class and stratification, such as mobility and attainment, are potent explanations for how inequalities structure and restructure.

We use a variety of survey data, including the Polish Panel Survey (POLPAN 1988 -2013), the longest running panel survey in Central and Eastern Europe, and one of the longest in the world. In addition to our own analyses, we summarize the best in quantitative research that appeared in numerous Polish and English language publications since World War Two. This book is the first of its kind, as none other, in Polish or English, has linked Poland’s State Socialist past with the present using survey data on class and inequality.

To explain how the relationship between class and stratification changed through time, we present theoretical and empirical analyses that deal with the following main research questions:

Class and stratification: What has been the impact of the economic and political system in different periods on the class structure? How does the relationship between class and stratification change over-time?

Social mobility and attainment: How did the relationship between social origins and social destinations change over time? How did radical social change impact class mobility and educational attainment?

Occupational differentiation: What is the role of occupational differentiation in maintaining social inequality? Is the occupational hierarchy stable over time?

Class analyses: To what extent does the relationship between class and stratification differ for men and women? How does class align with political behavior after 1989?

We wrote this book because we feel that there are valuable lessons to be learned from linking past to present. Classic issues of class, stratification, mobility, and attainment have endured decades of radical social change. These concepts remain valid even when society tries to eradicate them. The theories retain their explanatory power, though the details shift with the times. Most contemporary class and stratification studies do not age well, as scholars tend to forget that what they are studying has, empirically speaking, deep historical roots. While some would be eager to shed the classic issues of the past to forge what they believe is a new path, this book is a reminder that history continually informs the present.

Table of Contents

Part I: Class and Stratification

Chapter 1: Polish Sociology and Investigations into Class and Stratification in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Chapter 2: Class Structure and Social Stratification in Poland from the 1970s to the 2010s

Part II: Mobility and Attainment

Chapter 3: Social Mobility and Systemic Changes in Class Structure: Analyzing Inflow-Outflow Tables with Different Origin and Destination Categories

Chapter 4: Social Mobility in Education and Occupation, 1982 – 2006

Chapter 5: Systemic Changes and Inequality in Access to Education, 1972 – 2008

Chapter 6: Determinants of Educational Inequality before and after the Systemic Change

Part III: Occupational Differentiation

Chapter 7: Occupational Classifications in Poland since the 1970s

Chapter 8: Changes in Occupational Prestige, 1958 – 2008

Part IV: Class Analyses

Chapter 9: Class, Gender and the Economic Crisis from an Intersectional Perspective

Chapter 10: Twenty Years of Class Voting in Poland, 1991 – 2011