Knowledge Production in the United States: An Analysis Using the Theoretical Frameworks of Marx and Weber




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The increased reliance of knowledge in the United States has led to what is often referred to as an emerging knowledge-based society. Knowledge is important to several aspects of society (Campbell, 2006) and is produced in a number of settings (e.g., research universities, industry and government laboratories, independent research institutes, etc.) across the nation (Godin & Gingras, 2000). In terms of research, scholars and other professionals must have access to the appropriate resources (e.g., laboratories, funds, etc.) (Feldman & Florida 1994) to engage in knowledge production. Further, more knowledge is produced and distributed by the United States, largely through scientific journals, than anywhere else in the world (Phillips, 2016). This paper analyzes the production and distribution of knowledge through the sociological theory of Karl Marx and Max Weber. The primary goal of this study is to develop a better understanding of modern-day knowledge production and distribution processes as they result in one of the most important commodities in the United States. The theoretical framework Marx (1844/1848/1867) used to analyze capitalist production and distribution uncovers the means that are important in knowledge production and knowledge distribution, the parties involved in these processes, and whether conflict exists between the parties involved. This analysis also underscores the need for more thorough examination of knowledge production in the twenty-first century using a Marxian framework. The theoretical framework Weber (1946) devised to understand stratification shows that resource divisions exist among researchers based on their unequal access to class, status, and political power; the unequal outcomes in knowledge production efforts result from such divisions. Using chi-squared tests this paper examines three hypotheses that emerge from the application of Weber’s (1946) theory to researchers involved in knowledge production. First, I consider whether scientists have different amounts of class, status, and political power that influence the outcomes of their research. Second, I ask whether researchers’ reliance on technological innovations such as infrastructure lessens the influence of status, and increases the effect of class on their stratification. My final hypothesis pertains to whether researchers’ class and status are related to their political power. The results show interesting differences between natural and social scientists’ access to class and status. The study indicates the need for future research examining a more comprehensive group of scientists and lays the groundwork for further examination of the applicability of Weber’s (1946) stratification theory to researchers in the United States.



Social stratification, Alienation (Social psychology), Research—United States, Knowledge economy—United States, Marx, Karl, 1818-1883, Weber, Max, 1864-1920


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