Robert Bell (1973)

Senior Analyst, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation

My graduate school application said something to the effect that I was interested in the relationship between knowledge and ideas, on the one hand, and power and authority, on the other. Berkeley didn't change that, but it helped me get it to the level of researchable problems. Philip Selznick and Philippe Nonet showed me that law was a logical focus for someone interested in culture in action and the role of rationality in modern life. Though I came to Berkeley prepared to acquire marketable skills and make my peace with positivist sociology, both my teachers and my student colleagues tempted me to continue my liberal education instead, and I succumbed.

I taught for thirteen years, first at Northwestern and then at Georgetown. I published a book (The Culture of Policy Deliberations) about the social conditions affecting intellectual integrity in a government organization. When I left academia, through some complex mixture of choice and circumstance, I was ready to risk being an intellectual in the world of action rather than a pragmatist in the world of thought. I got a job in NSF's Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Of course, bureaucracy, even in an office of inspector general (the OIG is a federal agency's internal cop), and not just at NSF, is a world of thought, as I knew from my academic research. Far from being an ethereal, professorial issue, intellectual integrity turned out to be the most practical possible organizational concern, and my sociological knowledge and perspective were constantly in play. Whether in working to construct a legal order adequate to investigating crimes against science or in elucidating the dilemmas of purposive action in NSF-funded organizations, I found myself translating sociology into ordinary action and ordinary English.

Organizational cultures are fragile (venerable sociological wisdom), and I was fortunate to leave the OIG as a new IG was moving to dumb it down. I am now redesigning NSF's survey on public attitudes toward and understanding of science and technology, experiencing new variations on the ironic interplays of pragmatism and positivism, thought and action, liberal education and technical skill, and (always) knowledge and ideas, on the one hand, and power and authority, on the other.

Dissertation Title: 
Constructing the Public Interest: A Sociological Analysis of Administrative Deliberation and the Interpretation of Federal Subsidized Housing Policy
Dissertation Book Title: 
The culture of policy deliberations
New Brunswick, N.J.