Article written by Neil Fligstein and 2010 DPDF Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Contentious Politics Research Director Doug McAdam.
We would first like to thank Alan Sica for inviting us to respond to Stephan Fuchs’ review of our book. In truth, after seeing the review, our first reaction was to decline the invitation. Frankly, it’s hard to engage someone who doesn’t seem to have read much of the book and instead used the review to defend his narrow conception of theory against the “barbarians”—that would be us—he sees massed at its gates. In the end, though, we decided it was important to offer a response, not simply to defend our book, but to argue for a very different, more empirically driven conception of theory than the traditional interpretation and veneration of Theorists that Fuchs represents. Our response has two parts. First, we try to answer the questions—what is Fuchs so angry about and what turf is he so intent on defending? Second, since Fuchs certainly never provided one, we offer a brief account of what we were trying to accomplish in writing “A Theory of Fields,” and what alternative conception of theory it seeks to advance.
Why is Fuchs so apoplectic? We can’t be sure, of course, but we think the basic perspective sketched in our book provides a plausible answer to the question. The fundamental premise of field theory—our version as well as that of others—is that the world is composed of an almost infinite array of constructed social orders within which actors vie for advantage. These actors can be crudely divided into “incumbents”—those groups and individuals whose conception of the field is currently dominant—and “challengers,” who offer competing conceptions of the overall structure and logic of the field. Academic disciplines and the subfields that comprise them are fields in their own right. This, of course, includes “the field of theory” referred to in our title.