December 2015 Issue • Volume 43 • Issue 8

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Top-Cited Articles in Sociology Journals, 2010–2014

Jerry A. Jacobs, University of Pennsylvania

What are the most frequently cited articles published in sociology journals in the past five years? With the advent of software that organizes journal citations in an assessable manner, this question has become easier to answer. This information may well be of interest to sociologists striving to keep up-to-date with recent research, especially widely-discussed developments outside of their own areas of scholarship. This report is based on, and partly excerpted from, my forthcoming paper in The American Sociologist (Jacobs, 2016).

Table 1. Articles Published in Sociology Journals with 400+ Cumulative Citations in Google Scholar between 2010-2014

(Click on Table to View Larger)

Table 1 lists the most cited papers published in sociology journals during the period 2010-2014. This list was obtained as part of my study ranking 140 sociology journals; Harzing’s “Publish or Perish” (PoP) software was used to analyze Google Scholar citation data (Harzing 2015). Previous research points to the validity of these data: a very high percentage of links are indeed functioning connections to sources that cite the article in question (Jacobs 2009).


While each of the authors in the attached list deserves congratulations, special mention goes to Tom A.B. Snijders and Christian E.G. Steglich, both Professor of Sociology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Their paper in Social Networks was the most cited paper in the 2010–2014 period; they are also co-authors on another top 10 paper (published in Sociological Methodology). Paul Amato, Professor of Sociology at Pennsylvania State University, also warrants recognition for the fact that his is the only name to appear in the most-cited article list for the period 2000–2009 as well as the 2010–2014 list presented here.

Substantively, the theme of social networks plays a prominent role in many of these papers. Four are explicitly about networks; the article by Neil Brenner, Jamie Peck, and Nik Theodore has cross-country policy networks as a prominent theme, and the study by Ezter Hargittai examines usage of the Internet, the world’s largest active network. In terms of their approach, most of the top papers can also be characterized as methodological contributions, review essays, or synthetic theoretical essays.


The main surprise in this list is how few of the most-cited articles appeared in the top-ranked journals. None of the top-cited papers was published in one of the three top generalist journals, American Sociological Review (ASR), American Journal of Sociology (AJS), or the Annual Review of Sociology. In contrast, the leading specialist journals, such as Social Networks, the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, and the Journal of Marriage and the Family, are well represented. Hargittai’s study was published in Sociological Inquiry, a journal that is not usually included in the top quartile of sociology journals. And two appeared in journals that may not be familiar to some sociologists—the Journal of Consumer Culture and Global Networks.

The visibility of papers outside the set of elite journals may be viewed as evidence that that electronic search processes are leveling the playing field and enabling greater visibility across the broad spectrum of journals. This “Internet-accessibility” hypothesis has been advanced by Larivière and his colleagues (2009), among others. In other words, the broader accessibility of journals due to the ready availability of search tools may make it easier for researchers and scholars to find potentially important papers in a wider range of outlets. On the other hand, broader measures of the gap between papers in elite and other journals do not support the idea of an equalizing trend across sociology journals.

An Asterisk on the Results

This list identifies the articles that have generated the most interest, or are the most visible. It makes no claims regarding quality. If readers will permit me to make an analogy to movies, this list is closer to the “Weekend Box Office Results” than it is to the Academy Award nominees. There are surely many worthy pieces of scholarship that are not on this list. This is true for a number of reasons, including: some research domains are currently less active than others; journals that do not publish in English tend to garner less visibility; and some articles may be “ahead their time,” that is, they will become established as classics but only after the scholarly community has had more time to absorb their insights.

Harzing’s PoP software can be used in a number of ways. It can be used to generate a variety of statistics about journals, along with each publications’ most-cited articles. In this way it can serve as a useful tool strategically, for assessing the visibility of a given journal, but also bibliographically, as PoP identifies articles in a way that the standard Journal Citation Reports do not. PoP can also be used as a general search tool as well as for obtaining information on the citations of individual researchers. Perhaps tools can be developed to quickly identify the top-cited books in the field as well.

As the number of journals continues to grow, it becomes harder and harder to keep up with the literature, especially beyond our own specialties. I hope that the presentation of this list represents a step in the direction of improving communication in our widely diffused field. 


  1. Harzing, A.W. 2015. Publish or Perish, Version 4, available at
  2. Harzing, A. W. 2011. The Publish or Perish Book. Your guide to effective and responsible citation analysis. Tamara Software Research (Publisher). Available online.
  3. Jacobs, Jerry A. 2016. “Journal Rankings in Sociology: Using the H Index with Google Scholar.” Forthcoming, The American Sociologist.
  4. Jacobs, Jerry A. 2009. “Where Credit is Due: Assessing the Visibility of Articles Published in Gender & Society with Google Scholar.” Gender & Society 23(6):817-832.
  5. Larivière, Vincent , Yves Gingras and Éric Archambault. 2009. “The decline in the concentration of citations, 1900–2007.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60(4):858-862.





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