This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book presents a case study scrutinizing the European Research Council (ERC) as a new institution of research funding for 'excellence' at supranational level. The ERC with its grant system is of apparently strong normative impact on the cultural legitimacy and social stratification of science. It sets new standards for reputation and reward for researchers and research activities in the scientific community of Europe and beyond. The book provides a discussion of previous research in social science, and in the sociology of science in particular. It also introduces methods of empirical research used and combined in a comparative investigation of scientific careers. The book identifies the social and cultural structure as structural determinants of the European Research Area (ERA). It scrutinizes the consequences of ERC funding for collective knowledge production and the content of research.