How Theories Travel: Network Topologies and the Role of the Translator in the Early Diffusion of Rational Choice Theories
Abstract:How do scientific innovations spread within and across scientific communities? In this paper, we address this question by applying network analysis to study the early spread of John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior within and across the social and behavioral sciences as an exemplary case of the diffusion of scientific concepts and formal-mathematical tools. Using co-citation analysis, we reconstruct the knowledge domain in which the concepts and tools contained in the Theory of Games have found further modification and application. We argue that a subset of what we call ‘key seminal contributions’ had a crucial role in facilitating their spread within and across distinct disciplines. In light of their bridging function, we label these contributions ‘translators’. We discuss their role in the context of our case study and derive some general insights into the conditions under which scientific innovations diffuse within and across scientific communities. Our study is primarily meant to make a case for using empirical network analysis in studying the diffusion of innovative ideas in science.