Quantitative Methods in Intellectual History Chapitre d’ouvrage - Août 2023

Mohamed Amine Brahimi, Tristan Leperlier

Mohamed Amine Brahimi, Tristan Leperlier, « Quantitative Methods in Intellectual History  », in Gisèle Sapiro, Stefanos Geroulanos (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the History and Sociology of Ideas, 2023, pp. 100 - 115. ISBN 9781003093046


Quantitative methods enable a departure from the persistent, often unconscious view of intellectuals as relatively isolated and even socially unattached. One of the functions of statistics is in fact to generalize observations made at an individual level to a macrosocial level, thus underscoring the profoundly social nature of intellectual vocations. Statistics offer a means to move beyond individual contingencies and toward a more relational or structural view of the intellectual world. They serve to identify the various groups that constitute this social space in the short and the long term. The role of statistics is therefore not to replace qualitative methods or situated texts, but to inform intellectual practice at a different level. Especially since the 1990s, quantitative methods have been imported into the study of intellectual life and production from different subdisciplines. In France, the adoption of statistical approaches followed from a dialogue between historians and sociologists. A prosopographical method was developed in the social history of elites, especially by Christophe Charle, and has been used by sociologists of intellectuals working in the wake of Pierre Bourdieu and his field theory. One of the tools used to explore prosopographical data is Multiple Correspondence Analysis (henceforth MCA). MCA is well adapted to field theory, which argues that intellectual stances are partly expressions of the position of intellectuals within a relational social space. To give an example of the use and value of MCA, in this chapter, we will use the Algerian literary field during the civil war of the 1990s. Meanwhile, in the United States, quantitative methods such as regression analysis were imported from economics, whereas network analysis is used within an interactionist theoretical framework. To illustrate the uses of this method for the study of thinkers, we will present Richard Posner’s survey of US public intellectuals and Randall Collins’s inquiry on Greek philosophers.

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