Sociological innovation through subfield integration

Erin Leahey, James Moody

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Is domain-spanning beneficial? Can it promote innovation? Classic research on recombinant innovation suggests that domain-spanning fosters the accumulation of diverse information and can thus be a springboard for fresh ideas—most of which emanate from the merger of extant ideas from distinct realms. But domain-spanning is also challenging to produce and to evaluate. Here, the domains of interest are subfields. We focus on subfield spanning in sociology, a topically diverse field whose distinct subfields are still reasonably permeable. To do so, we introduce two measures of subfield integration, one of which uniquely accounts for the novelty of subfield combinations. We find (within the limits of observable data) the costs to be minimal but the rewards substantial: Once published, sociology articles that integrate subfields (especially rarely spanned subfields) garner more citations. We discuss how these results illuminate trends in the discipline of sociology and inform theories of recombinant innovation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)228-256
Number of pages29
JournalSocial Currents
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2014


  • Boundary spanning
  • Higher education
  • Innovation
  • Multilevel models
  • Networks
  • Science knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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