Eugenio Petrovich joins the Vossius Center for one month in October 2019 as a Research Fellow with the project "Reconstructing the History of Analytic Philosophy by the Analysis of the Acknowledgment Sections of Academic Publications".
In my Ph.D. thesis, I introduced an innovative approach to the study of the history of contemporary analytic philosophy, based on the techniques of citation analysis developed in the field of scientometrics (the quantitative study of scientific information). Philosophical texts - and, in particular, the analytic philosophy publications of the last 40 years - are increasingly interconnected by a dense web of citations. In my thesis, I showed how the analysis of the structure and the dynamics of such a network of texts and citations allows us not only to reconstruct, quantitatively, the evolution of analytic philosophy, but also to shed light on some elusive aspects of its recent history (such as specialization), that are difficult to capture by the classic methodologies of the historiography of philosophy. Specifically, I investigated, by different citation analysis techniques, the changing morphology of the field (discovering a pattern of fragmentation) (Petrovich and Buonomo 2018) and the process of the accumulation of knowledge within analytic philosophy (Petrovich 2018b). Based on these empirical investigations, I advanced what I called the "feedback hypothesis", according to which the network of texts and citations of analytic philosophy (what I called the «documental space») interacts with the actors producing the texts, constraining their possible intellectual paths in the field (Petrovich 2018a).
Given the focus on documents and relationships between documents, I proposed the name "documental history" for the research programme that I shortly described above. The research that I would like to undertake at the Vossius Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences is a
development as well as a refinement of such a documental history. In the next paragraph, I explain in some detail the research proposal, whereas, in the following one, I will point out why the Center is the ideal context to pursue it.
As I said above, until now I focused mainly on citations in analytic philosophy. However, explicit citations are only one of the ways in which author connect their work to the other authors in the field. Another way is to acknowledge the influence or the help of other scholars by mentioning their name in a special section of academic papers, usually called "Acknowledgement". The study of this section is particularly interesting because it reveals socio-cognitive aspects of the evolution of academic fields that do not emerge from the citation network (Cronin, Shaw, and La Barre 2003). During my visiting at the Vossius Center, I would like to study the history of recent analytic philosophy by taking the viewpoint of the acknowledgment sections of analytic academic papers. I believe that such an analysis will offer important insights both on the intellectual ties between analytic philosophers and on the social structure of analytic philosophy, revealing the "invisible colleges" (Crane 1972) that underly it. Furthermore, I think that this method can spot gender inequalities and, more generally, power dynamics in the academia.
I believe that the renowned Vossius Center is the ideal context for pursuing such a project. I am sure that the post-disciplinary perspective on the development of knowledge of the Center will enrich my project with new methods and ideas. Specifically, I think that I would enormously benefit from participating in the activities of the research team led by Prof. Arianna Betti, that is developing a ground-breaking quantitative approach to the history of philosophy based on advanced computeraided text-analysis techniques. Indeed, I believe that the analysis of the acknowledgment would be significantly improved (especially in the number of documents that can be processed) by employing automated text-analysis techniques.
Eugenio Petrovich is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Siena. He is specialized in Scientometrics, History of Analytic Philosophy and Historiography of Philosophy.