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The concept of decentralization through time and disciplines: a quantitative exploration

Decentralization is a pervasive concept found across disciplines, including Economics, Political Science, and Computer Science, where it is used in distinct yet interrelated ways.

Here, we develop and publicly release a general pipeline to investigate the scholarly history of the term, analysing 425,144 academic publications that refer to (de)centralization. We find that the fraction of papers on the topic has been exponentially increasing since the 1950s. In 2021, 1 author in 154 mentioned (de)centralization in the title or abstract of an article. Using both semantic information and citation patterns, we cluster papers in fields and characterize the knowledge flows between them.

Our analysis reveals that the topic has independently emerged in the different fields, with small cross-disciplinary contamination. Moreover, we show how Blockchain has become the most influential field about 10 years ago, while Governance dominated before the 1990s.

In summary, our findings provide a quantitative assessment of the evolution of a key yet elusive concept, which has undergone cycles of rise and fall within different fields. Our pipeline offers a powerful tool to analyze the evolution of any scholarly term in the academic literature, providing insights into the interplay between collective and independent discoveries in science.

G. Di Bona, A. Bracci, N. Perra, V. Latora, A. Baronchelli, The concept of decentralization through time and disciplines: a quantitative exploration, EPJ Data Science 12 (2023) 42.

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