The Sociology of Scientific Work

The Sociology of Scientific Work

The Fundamental Relationship between Science and Society

PRIME Series on Research and Innovation Policy in Europe

Dominique Vinck

More than ever before, science and technology play a significant role in modern society as evidenced by the development of nanotechnologies and the controversies surrounding GMOs and climate change. This book comprehensively explores the flourishing field of science and technology studies and examines its creation, development and interaction with contemporary society.

Chapter 2: The Institution of Science

Dominique Vinck

Subjects: innovation and technology, innovation policy


Historical sociology shows that science is instituted as a relatively autonomous and disengaged social space, dedicated to the production of objective knowledge. It outlines the conditions behind its emergence. Now, we are faced with a peculiar phenomenon: an institution and organisations that sociologists are striving to describe in an effort to understand the way they work. From their research, a new form of analysis has arisen, sometimes qualified as the ‘institutional sociology of science’ or the ‘sociology of scientists’. This sociology of science was in fact born with the work of the American functionalist sociologist Robert K. Merton (Box 2.1). Box 2.1 Merton and the founding of the sociology of science Merton began his work at Harvard University where he was influenced by science historian George Sarton, founder of the review Isis – which brought together scientists, philosophers, historians and sociologists – and the Osiris collection of monographs, associated with the review. Merton published his first works in the review. He joined with Pitrim A. Sorokin, a rural sociologist and head of the Harvard sociology department, whose lectures he had followed. He also spent a lot of time with the young Talcott Parsons, an instructor working for Sorokin who at the time was carrying out an analysis of the fluctuations in truth systems (conditioning by the dominant culture of what society considers as true or false). Sorokin showed that the practice of scientific method is the result of the spread in society of the primacy of sensuality versus faith in the formation...

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