Often, bibliometric mapping studies remain at a very abstract level when assessing the validity or accuracy of the generated maps. In this case study of citation-based mappings of a research specialty, we dig deeper into the topical structures generated by the chosen mapping approaches and examine their correspondence to a sociologically informed understanding of the research specialty in question. Starting from a lexically delineated bibliometric field data set, we create an internal map of invasion biology by clustering the direct citation network with the Leiden algorithm. We obtain a topic structure that seems largely ordered by the empirical objects studied (species and habitat). To complement this view, we generate an external map of invasion biology by projecting the field data set onto the global Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) field classification. To better understand the representation of invasion biology by this global map, we use a manually coded set of invasion biological publications and investigate their citation-based interlinking with the fields defined by the global field classification. Our analysis highlights the variety of types of topical relatedness and epistemic interdependency that citations can stand for. Unless we assume that invasion biology is unique in this regard, our analysis suggests that global algorithmic field classification approaches that use citation links indiscriminately may struggle to reconstruct research specialties.

This content is only available as a PDF.

Author notes

Handling Editor: Vincent Larivière

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For a full description of the license, please visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode.

Supplementary data