Trying to ask what exactly is meant by an academic discipline, field or area is a question that is almost so broad as to be meaningless. Of course, it’s still a question that is asked plenty of times – as, for example, Paul Ward does in Animation studies, disciplinarity and discursitivity (Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, 3:2). But one way to at least begin asking this question is to operationalize it – to move away from what a field is, and towards the question of what do those working in this field actually do, and how. There is a general answer – scholars in a particular field think about particular topics, work with particular materials, answer particular questions. And there is an answer that is even more specific – scholars in a particular field produce knowledge that takes specific – and quantifiable – forms. And one way to gain at least some understanding of any particular academic field is by looking at how that field produces knowledge.
At the very basic level, this means examining a particular field’s “research output”, “publication patterns” or “publishing behavior”. That is, what kind of writing is expected of scholars in the field? Does it take the form of journal articles, book chapters, stand-alone books? And what are the proportions of each of those type of output to each other? A typical example of this kind of question and analysis is Huang and Chang’s Characteristics of research output in social sciences and the humanities.