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 7: Scientific Practices

Dominique Vinck

Subjects: innovation and technology, innovation policy


Until now, two approaches have structured the sociology of sciences. The first concerns sciences within institutions, organisations or systems of exchange. The second reports on what scientists produce by analysing the influence of social processes on the content of scientific knowledge. However, neither of these two approaches looks close up at what scientists do in their work on a day-to-day basis. By looking at controversies, sociologists are held back at a level of discourse and conceptual production. Practices have remained secret or been reduced to their sociological causes. For Shapin (1979) (in Chapter 6), material techniques are simply a materialisation of the interests of groups that are in competition with each other. Collins (1974) insists on experimental practice, but he does so within the framework of a theory of experimental circularity, to show that experimental regression can only be stopped by social factors. There are few authors who take an interest in concrete practices. Wittgenstein, with his notion of the game of language, established the basis for their study. Kuhn emphasised the importance of ‘reasonable agreements’ in laboratory practice. Fleck and Polanyi drew attention to practices, instruments, experimental mechanisms and technicians as well as to tacit know-how. Ravetz believes that we cannot achieve academic excellence with formal principles, but only through day-to-day practice. He writes: ‘Although tools are only auxiliaries of the advancement of scientific knowledge, their influence on the directions of work is important and often decisive’ (Ravetz, 1972, p. 89). Looking at concrete, ordinary, in situ practices is...

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