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 6: Society’s Influence on Knowledge Content

Dominique Vinck

Subjects: innovation and technology, innovation policy


In the previous chapters, we explored sociological approaches to the phenomenon of science that explain social structures and dynamics, but fail to address scientific content. In this chapter, we shall examine a number of works concerned with identifying the extent to which the knowledge system and scientific content (data, concepts, theories, methods and so on) can be explained by social factors. The first two sections broach the issue from an overall standpoint. The third section presents intermediate sociological analyses focused on the emergence of scientific specialities and the recurrence of problems in a particular research field. The fourth to sixth sections look at social studies of scientific knowledge (Sociology of Scientific Knowledge: SSK) that were influenced by relativist theories: conceptual foundations, programmes, critiques and extensions. Finally, the seventh section demonstrates how the research community that specialises in the sociology of the sciences has changed its approach to these questions. The Macrosociological Science Trend A first means of addressing scientific content is by analysing how the knowledge system’s key trends have evolved and how scientists’ areas of interest have changed. This is a macroscopic analysis. The major trends and the fields in which knowledge develops can be explained partly in sociological terms. However, the actual breakdown of knowledge is better explained through its nature, logic and methodology. Society’s Influence on Knowledge Systems Many authors have suggested that society influences the nature and content of scientific knowledge. Thus, Condorcet, Comte and Marx established a relationship between the structures of society and those...

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