What Is “Interesting”? What is the Half-Life of New Ideas?

I have been recently revising for submission an article about the filed of virtual worlds and why is was very turbulent from 2007-2009, (working title is “Code Rules” and this is a paper I presented at EGOS 2010 with my collaborator, F. Ted Tschang from Singapore Management University).

We have realized that the “interesting” contribution we can make is to discuss the emergence and change in the field.  Now, honestly, this insight came from looking at the data and the influence of the classic 1991 New Institutionalism book edited by DiMaggio and Powell, a chapter by Thornton and Ocasio from the Sage 2008 Handbook on Institutionalism, and the 2005 special forum in Organization Science on the future of Organization Science, especially Davis and Marquis article calling for a turn to studying fields and mechanisms as especially apt for reinvigorating a study of contemporary capitalism.    I am not doing full citations since this is really the level of familiarity for me of these pieces.  These are pieces of scholarship that I know backwards and forwards, have annotated, have re-read, and have grasped lovingly as I stoop over a desk peering deeply for the meaning behind meaning of words.  Old school scholarship.

I suspect, without having ever discussed it much with other scholars, that we have similar habits.

In fact, I feel a little confessional about this whole post.  Am I pulling back the curtain?  Am I exposing my inner workings too much?

Setting aside my trepidation, the story continues…

I know that these pieces of scholarship are not self contained and are like crests on waves or currents of thought, discourse, and scholarship.

And in the process of drafting our ideas, I stopped looking for scholarship.  I had found in the past that trying to read everything on a topic was a crutch.  Hence, I had stopped.

So, as I started to revise and look for more citations to improve the framing, it was with a mix of surprise and annoyance I found a whole special issue from 2002 in Academy of Management Journal on this very topic.

So, now I wonder if our argument is not nearly as “interesting” as I thought it was.  What is the half-life of an academic trend?  How long can institutional theorists say “up to now we have looked at stable fields but now we need to look at field dynamics and emergence” as if this is a new idea?

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