December 2013 Issue • Volume 41 • Issue 8

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Dissertation Award Winners

The American Sociological Association (ASA) presented the 2013 major awards at this year’s Annual Meeting on August 12 in New York City. The ASA Dissertation Award, given to Larissa Buchholz and Daniel A. Menchik, honors the best PhD dissertation from among those submitted by advisors and mentors in the discipline. Below are the profiles of the awardees. The profiles of the other major award winners appeared in the November issue of Footnotes.

Larissa Buchholz

Larissa Buchholz

Dissertation Major ASA Award

Larissa Buchholz (co-recipient)

Larissa Buchholz, currently a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, wrote “The Global Rules of Art” while at Columbia University, under the sponsorship of Gil Eyal and with Diane Vaughan and Peter Bearman as committee members. Her dissertation is a path-breaking study of the emergence of a global field in the visual arts and an examination of the different ways that artists become valued worldwide. The study begins with a theoretical puzzle: as globalization leads to cross-border flows and growing transnational valuation of cultural goods, will these dynamics extend the dominance of cultural goods from a few Western countries or enable greater circulation and recognition of cultural creations from non-Western regions thereby increasing cultural diversity? Rather than approaching this puzzle as an either/or dilemma, Buchholz examined the diverse processes through which artists from non-Western regions come to be recognized and valued in this emerging global field.

What follows is a theoretically and methodologically sophisticated analysis of how a global field has emerged in the visual arts, and how it operates at the micro, meso, and macro levels. Buchholz applies and extends Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the field of cultural production, developed to explain Western art. Drawing masterfully on the relevant literatures in French, English,and German, she expands the theoretical framework from a national to a global scale. Buchholz then develops an extremely ambitious mixed-method empirical design to answer her theoretical question. She traces the emergence and evolving characteristics of a global art field by using a broad range of objective and subjective indicators, including quantitative art indices and interviews with curators, gallery owners, and auction house agents. She maps the worldwide diffusion of transnational public and commercial art institutions across 149 countries and shows how the global art field is mainly composed of two global institutional circuits of cultural flows and valuation—the exhibition circuit and the auction market.

Buchholz establishes that there are systematically different conditions of worldwide artistic recognition in globalizing circuits that are oriented by the commercial logic of exchange as represented in the global auction market and a logic of cultural prestige and charisma in the global exhibition circuit. She analyzes the career patterns of around 180 worldwide leading artists and shows that the higher the artist’s transnational economic success, the lower the symbolic prestige and vice versa. Contrary to established accounts that associate globalization with the unmitigated rise of market forces for determining artistic prestige across borders, Buchholz reveals that the visual arts are fundamentally structured around a dual cultural world economy and meticulously reveals its unique cultural, social, and geographic characteristics.

To illuminate how the global art world’s distinctive forms of recognition unfold, Buchholz develops qualitative case studies of the biographies of two non-Western artists, Gabriel Orozco from Mexico and Yue Minjun from China — one successful in terms of worldwide cultural recognition and the other a superstar in the global economic art market. The case studies ask how the artists were able to arrive at a dominant position in the global field in their respective forms of recognition, despite coming from the former artistic periphery. Through numerous interviews with artists, curators, private collectors, critics, and other art professionals in Europe, Asia, North and Latin America, as well as abundant secondary sources, the dissertation charts their careers and illustrates the forces and dynamics operating within national and global artistic fields, especially the changing roles played by collectors, investment houses, and curators across national borders. The dissertation underscores the importance of considering the institutional diversity of globalizing cultural realms to identify the logics and processes by which they work.

“The Global Rules of Art” breaks new ground in its integration of the sociology of art, cultural sociology, and economic sociology with globalization and the diffusion of ideas associated with it. Its value and importance go further, in the elaboration of an innovative method for studying global processes. While the dissertation’s empirical subject matter is the visual arts, Buchholz makes a major contribution in establishing a research program for the study of global fields. She develops innovative theoretical concepts necessary for such analysis, and the methodology and research design for others to apply to new substantive areas. This outstanding work is likely to influence how sociologists study globalization in numerous realms.

Dissertation Award

Daniel A. Menchik

Daniel A. Menchik (co-recipient)

Daniel A. Menchik, Assistant Professor at Michigan State University, receives the 2013 award for his dissertation, “The Practices of Medicine: Knowledge Application and Authority Acquisition in Professional Work.” Menchik completed this work at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Andrew Abbott, Edward Laumann, and David Meltzer.

The dissertation’s novel and ambitious research design is an ethnography of multiple nested venues. It focuses on physicians’ tasks rather than their institutional setting, recognizing that there is not one “shop floor” for ethnographic observation. Menchik notes that we give physicians unprecedented control over our minds, bodies, and lives, and he asks two questions: What are the conditions under which we provide and revoke their privileged authority? And how do physicians come to practice in the way they do? To answer these questions, Menchik examines both how physicians’ uses of medical knowledge are organized by local logics and needs and how distant venues influence the actual content of this knowledge. His theoretically advanced and methodologically innovative work shows that studies of physicians’ practices will benefit from attention to these local and distant influences.

Menchik gathered data over six years in six different venues—inside and outside the hospital setting. Inside an elite tertiary care teaching hospital, he followed cardiac electrophysiologists as they responded to the requirements of different tasks in the wards, in an electrophysiology lab, and in administrative meetings. Outside the hospital, he followed doctors to other venues that shape how physicians learn and practice medicine, including industry-sponsored meetings and international conferences. These venues are often excluded from consideration in medical sociology, but they are important venues in which physicians present their most unusual cases; where industry representatives try to influence their practices; and where discoveries with the potential to change the field are presented and discussed among colleagues.

Arguing against a more institutionally focused view that sees doctors’ actual practices as incoherent and disorganized, Menchik shows that doctors’ practices and use of medical knowledge are considerably more organized and structured than they may seem. They are organized by the opportunities and constraints created within and across the multiple venues where doctors teach, work, and socialize. Menchik observes that doctors are simultaneously embedded in multiple economic, political, and scientific relationships, and regularly find themselves pursuing a variety of interests—such as running a profitable practice, impressing a senior physician, and seeking to enhance their status with colleagues. The dictates of doctors’ central work tasks determine which interests dominate in a specific time and place, by activating logics that structure uses of knowledge. Three types of logics of practice—the situational, personal, and positional logics—are particularly influential in organizing the practice of medical knowledge.

When practices are compared across multiple venues that relate to a given task, it is possible to see how the venues are linked and explains how doctors choose one practice rather than another, and why they might make choices that would exact high prices from individuals and the state. Physicians are conscious of feedback loops that operate across nested venues, and they will pursue those practices that will simultaneously maximize their status, and serve to sustain the profession’s authority with outside stakeholders.

Through six chapters focusing on different tasks or problems, the dissertation shows how the practices that occur in a particular venue link to constraints and opportunities elsewhere. It also describes how members of the profession sanction those who hurt the reputation of the field by acting unethically or deviating from elite standards. Menchik thus shows how the processes individual physicians use to maintain authority within the field also serve to sustain the profession’s authority with outside stakeholders. It finishes by proposing that its dynamic and contingent model can better explain how authority is gained and lost in medicine compared with the present static and hierarchical model.

Theory and methodology are tightly interwoven in this work, each contributing to advances in the other and to empirical advances in the sociology of knowledge, medical sociology, and the study of authority. The dissertation also enhances our understanding of how and when knowledge differs from practice. It shows that doctors’ practices are not wholly shaped by their training, but also by the variety of interests and multiple roles they fill. “The Practices of Medicine” is an outstanding piece of research that is important for what it tells us about the medical profession.


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