Science And Social Movements Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

View sample Science And Social Movements Research Paper. Browse other science research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a religion research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our research paper writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

The social movements that are discussed in this research paper refer to major political processes of popular mobilization that have significant societal significance, and include organized forms of protest as well as broader and more diffuse manifestations of public opinion and debate. In relation to science, social movements conceived in this way can be seen to have served as seedbeds for new modes of practicing science and organizing knowledge more generally, and also as sites for critically challenging and reconstituting the established forms of scientific activity.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% OFF with 24START discount code

1. Introduction

Since they fall between different academic specializations and disciplinary concerns, the relations between science and social movements have tended to be a neglected subject in the social sciences. For students of social movements in sociology and political science, the relations to science have been generally of marginal interest and received little systematic attention (Dellaporta and Diani 1999), while in science and technology studies, social movements usually have been regarded more as contextual background than as topics of investigation in their own right. Considering their potential significance as ‘missing links,’ both in the social production of knowledge and in broader processes of political and social change, however, the relations between science and social movements deserve closer scrutiny. For one thing, new ideas about nature and society have often first emerged outside the world of formal scientific activity, within broader social and political movements. Social movements have also often provided audiences, or new publics, for the spreading and popularization of scientific findings and results. Movements of religious dissent were among the most significant disseminators of the new experimental philosophy in the mid-seventeenth century, for example, while, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, new approaches to medicine, social relations, gender roles, and the environment found receptive audiences within social and political movements. Most visibly, social movements and their spokespersons have offered critical perspectives on both the form and content of science, as well as on the uses to which science has been put. In recent decades, a range of so-called new social movements have criticized the dominant biases and perspectives of many scientific and technological fields. This research paper first presents these different forms of interaction between science and social movements in general, historical terms. It then discusses contemporary relations between science and social movements, and, in particular, the environmental movement.

2. Historical Perspectives

A fundamental insight of the sociology of knowledge, as it developed in the 1920s and 1930s, was to suggest that modern science emerged in the seventeenth century out of a more all-encompassing struggle for political freedom and religious reform (Scheler 1980/1924; Merton 1970/1938). What eventually came to be characterized as modern science represented an institutionalized form of knowledge production that, at the outset, had been inspired by more sweeping social and political transformations. The historical project of modernity did not begin as a new scientific method, or a new mechanical worldview, or, for that matter, as a new kind of state support for experimental philosophy in the form of scientific academies. As for the Reformation, it arose as a more deep-seated challenge to traditional ways of thought in social and religious life. It was a protest against the Church (which is why the members of the movement were called protestants), and it was an encompassing social and cultural movement that articulated and practiced alternative, or oppositional forms of religion, politics, and learning as part of its political struggle (Mandrou 1978). The teachings of Paracelsus, Giordano Bruno, and Tomaso Campanella, to name some of the better known examples, combined a questioning of established religious and political authority with an interest in scientific observation, mathematics, mechanics, and technical improvements (Merchant 1980). But as the broader movements were replaced by more formalized institutions in the course of the seventeenth century, the political and social experiments came to be transformed into scientific experiments; the political and religious reformation, tinged with mysticism and filled with mistrust of authority, was redefined and reconstituted, at least in part, as a scientific revolution (see Table 1).

Science And Social Movements Research Paper Table 1

In the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the scientific ‘aristocracy’ that had emerged in London and Paris at the Royal Society and the Academie des Sciences was challenged by dissenting groups and representatives of the emerging middle classes, some of whom fled from Europe to the colonies in North America, and some of whom established scientific societies, often in provincial areas in opposition to the established science of the capital cities. Many of them shared with the academicians and their royal patrons a belief in what Max Weber termed the protestant ethic, that is, an interest in the value of hard work and the virtue of making money, and most hAdvan interest in what Francis Bacon had termed ‘useful knowledge.’ The social movements of the enlightenment objected, however, to the limited ways in which the Royal Society and the Parisian Academy had organized the scientific spirit and institutionalized the new methods and theories of the experimental philosophy. The various attempts to democratize scientific education in the wake of the French Revolution and to apply the mechanical philosophy to social processes—that is, to view society itself as a topic for scientific research and analysis—indicate how critique and opposition helped bring about new forms of scientific practice. Adam Smith’s new science of political economy developed in the Scottish hinterland, and many of the first industrial applications of experimentation and mechanical philosophy took place in the provinces, rather than in the capital cities, where the scientific academies were located (Russell 1983).

Many of the political and cultural trends of the nineteenth century—from romanticism and utopianism to socialism and populism—also began as critical movements that at a later stage, and in different empirical manifestations, came to participate in reconstituting the scientific enterprise. Romanticism, for example, first emerged as a challenge to the promethean ambitions of science, in the guise, for example, of Mary Shelley’s mad Doctor Frankenstein, while socialism, in the utopian form promulgated by Robert Owen, was a reaction, among other things, to the problematic ways in which the technological applications of scientific activity were being spread into modern societies. Romantic writers and artists, like William Blake, Johann Goethe, and later Henry David Thoreau, were critical of the reductionism and cultural blindness of science and of the ‘dark satanic mills’ in which the mechanical worldview was being applied. They sought to mobilize the senses and the resources of myth and history in order to envision and create other ways of knowing (Roszak 1973). Some of their protest was transformed into constructive artistic creation, and later in the century, the romantic revolt of the senses inspired both the first waves of environmentalism in the form of conservation societies and the emergence of a new kind of holistic scientific discipline, to which was given the name ecology: household knowledge.

In the late nineteenth century, the labor movement also sought a deep-going, fundamental political, and cultural transformation of society, but it would see its critical message translated, in the twentieth century, into packages of reforms and a more welfare-oriented capitalism, on the one hand, and into the ‘scientific socialism’ of Leninand Stalin on the other (Gouldner 1980). Once again, however, science benefited from this institutionalization of the challenge of social movements; the knowledge interests of the labor movement, for example, entered into the new social science disciplines of economics and sociology. A political challenge was once again transformed into programs of scientific research and state policy; but while new forms of scientific expertise were developed, little remained of the broader democratization of knowledge production that the labor movement, in its more radical days, had articulated.

In the early twentieth century, the challenge to established science was mobilized most actively in the colonies of European imperialism, as well as in the defeated imperialist powers of Germany and Italy; the critique was primarily of scientific civilization writ large, and of what Mahatma Gandhi in India called its ‘propagation of immorality.’ In the name of modernism, science stood for the future and legitimated, in the colonies as well as in Europe, a wholesale destruction of the past and of the ‘traditional’ knowledges—the other ways of knowing—that had been developed in other civilizations (Tambiah 1990). These social movements hAdvan impact on the development of political ideology on both the right and left, but also inspired new sciences of ethnography and anthropology, as well as the sociology of knowledge. Even more important perhaps were the various attempts to combine the artisanal knowledges of the past and of other peoples with the modern science and technology of the present in new forms of architecture, design, and industrial production. Many of the regional development programs of the 1930s and 1940s, in Europe and North America, can trace their roots back to the cultural critique of modernism that was inspired by the Indian independence movement and by such ‘movement intellectuals’ as William Morris and Patrick Geddes in Britain. Both Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Swedish model welfare state can be said to have mobilized civilizationally critical perspectives in their projects of social reconstruction.

3. Science And Contemporary Social Movements

In recent decades, social movements have also served to challenge and reorient the scientific enterprise. Out of the anti-imperialist and student movements of the 1960s and the environmentalist, feminist, and identity movements of the 1970s and 1980s have emerged a range of alternative ideas about science, in form, content, and meaning, that have given rise to new scientific theories, academic fields, and technological programs (Schiebinger 1993, Harding 1998). Out of critique have grown the seeds of new, and often more participatory, ways of sciencing—from technology and environmental impact assessment to women’s studies, queer theory, and postcolonial discourses. What were in the 1960s and 1970s protest movements of radical opposition largely have been emptied of their political content, but they have given rise to new branches of, and approaches to, science and technology. While the more radical, or oppositional, voices have lost much of their influence, the more pragmatic and scientific voices have been given a range of new opportunities. This is not to say that there is no longer a radical environmental opposition or a radical women’s liberation movement, but radicals and reformists increasingly have drifted apart from one another, and in most countries now work in different organizations, with little sense of a common oppositional movement identity. There has been a fragmentation of what was a coherent movement into a number of disparate bits and pieces (Melucci 1996).

The new social movements rose to prominence in the downturn of a period of institutional expansion and economic growth. They emerged in opposition to the dominant social order and to its hegemonic scientific technological regime, which had been largely established during and immediately after World War II (Touraine 1988). The war led to a fundamental transformation in the world of science and technology, and to the emergence of a new relation, or contract, between science and politics. Unlike previous phases of industrialization, in which science and engineering had lived parallel but separate identities, World War II ushered in the era of technoscience. The war effort had been based on an unprecedented mobilization of scientists to create new weapons, from radar to the atomic bomb, and to gather and conduct intelligence operations. In the process, ‘little’ science was transformed into big science, or industrialized science.

Especially important for the social movements that were to develop in the 1960s and beyond was the fact that scientific research was placed at the center of postwar economic development. Many of the economically significant new products—nylon and other synthetic textiles, plastics, home chemicals and appliances, television—were based directly on scientific research, and the new techniques of production were also of a different type: it was the era of chemical fertilizers and insecticides, of artificial petrochemical-based process industries, and food additives. The forms of big science also differed from the ways in which science had been organized in the past. The big science laboratories—both in the public and private sectors—were like industrial factories, and scientifictechnical innovation came to be seen as an important concern for business managers and industrial organizers. The use of science in society had become systematized, and, as the consequences of the new order became more visible, new forms of mistrust and criticism developed (Jamison and Eyerman 1994).

One wing of the public reacted to the destruction of the natural environment, what an early postwar writer, Fairfield Osborn, termed ‘man’s war with nature.’ The exploitation of natural resources was increasing and, in the 1940s and 1950s, it began to be recognized that the new science-based products were more dangerous for the natural environment than those that had come before. But it would only be with Rachel Carson, and her book Silent Spring in 1962, that an environmental movement began to find its voice and its characteristic style of expression. It was by critically evaluating specific instances of scientific technology, particular cases of what Osborn had called the ‘flattery of science’ that the environmentalist critique would reach a broader public. Carson singled out the chemical insecticides for detailed scrutiny and assessment, but her point was more general. Carson’s achievement was to direct the methods of science against science itself, but also to point to another way of doing things, the biological or ecological way—what she called in her book the road not taken.

Another source of inspiration for the new social movements came from philosophers and social historians who questioned the more general impact of technoscience on the human spirit. It was one-dimensional thinking which critical theorists like Herbert Marcuse reacted against, the dominance of an instrumental rationality over all other forms of knowing. For Lewis Mumford, another major source of inspiration, it was the homogenization of the landscape that was most serious, the destruction of the organic rhythms and flows of life that had followed in the wake of postwar economic growth, as well as the dominance of what he termed the ‘megamachine,’ the use of technology for authoritarian purposes.

In the 1970s, a range of new social movements, building on these and other sources of inspiration, came to articulate an oppositional, or alternative approach to science and technology (Dickson 1974). The so-called new social movements represented an integrated set of knowledge interests, which combined the critique of Rachel Carson with the liberation dialectics of Marcuse and the direct democracy of the student movement. The new movements involved a fundamental critique of modern science’s exploitative attitude to nature, as well as an alternative organizational ideal—a democratic, or participatory ideal—for the development of knowledge. There were also distinct forms of collective learning in the new social movements of environmentalism and feminism, as well as grass-roots engineering activities that went under the name of appropriate or alternative technology.

4. Social Movements As Cognitive Praxis

On the basis of these historical and contemporary relations between science and social movements, many social movements can be characterized as producers of science (Eyerman and Jamison 1991). The critical ideas and new public arenas that are mobilized by social movements often provide the setting for innovative forms of cognitive praxis, combining alternative worldviews, or cosmological assumptions with alternative organizational and practical–technical criteria. In the case of environmentalism, the cosmology was, to a large extent, the translation of a scientific paradigm into a socioeconomic paradigm; in the 1970s, the holistic concepts of systems ecology were transformed into political programs of social ecology, and an ecological worldview was to govern social and political interactions. Technology was to be developed under the general perspective that ‘small is beautiful’ (in the influential phrase of E. F. Schumacher), and according to the assumption that large-scale, environmentally destructive projects should be opposed and stopped. At the same time, new contexts for education and experimentation and the diffusion of research were created in the form of movement workshops and, in the Netherlands, for example, in the form of science shops, which allowed activist groups to gain access to the scientific expertise at the universities (Irwin 1995).

In the 1980s, this cognitive praxis was decomposed largely into a disparate cluster of organizations and individuals, through processes of professionalization and fragmentation. The knowledge interests of the environmental movement were transformed into various kinds of professional expertise, which made it possible to incorporate parts of the movement into the established political culture, and to shift at least some of the members of the movement from outsider to insider status. Some of the alternative technical projects proved commercially viable—biological agriculture, wind energy plants, waste recycling—and gave rise to a more institutionalized form of environmental politics, science, and technology (Hajer 1995).

Similar processes can be identified in relation to other social movements of recent decades (Rose 1994). The political struggles for civil rights, women’s and sexual liberation, and ethnic and national identity have inspired new approaches to knowledge that have since been institutionalized and transformed into established scientific fields, such as women’s studies, gay and lesbian studies, African-American studies, as well as in new areas of medicine and technology.

At the same time, science itself has been reconstituted, partly as a result of the critical perspectives and cognitive challenges posed by social movements. Many of the postmodern theories of the cultural and human sciences have been inspired by the experiences of social and political movements. Out of the alternative public spaces that have been created by social and political movements has emerged a new kind of scientific pluralism, in terms of organization, worldview assumptions, and technical application. In the transformations of movements into institutions, a significant channel of cognitive and cultural change can thus be identified. It may be hoped, in conclusion, that these interactions between science and social movements will receive more substantial academic attention in the future.


  1. Dellaporta D, Diani M 1999 Social Movements. An Introduction. Routledge, London Blackwell, Oxford, UK
  2. Dickson D 1974 Alternative Technology and the Politics of Technical Change. Fontana, London
  3. Eyerman R, Jamison A 1991 Social Movements. A Cognitive Approach. Penn State University Press, University Park, PA
  4. Gouldner A 1980 The Two Marxisms. Contradictions and Anomalies in the Development of Theory. Seabury University Press, New York
  5. Hajer M 1995 The Politics of Environmental Discourse. Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK
  6. Harding S 1998 Is Science Multicultural? Postcolonialisms, Feminisms, and Epistemologies. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN
  7. Irwin A 1995 Citizen Science. A Study of People, Expertise and Sustainable Development. Routledge, London
  8. Jamison A, Eyerman R 1994 Seeds of the Sixties. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA
  9. Mandrou R 1978 From Humanism to Science 1480–1700. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, UK
  10. Melucci A 1996 Challenging Codes: Collective Action in the Information Age. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
  11. Merchant C 1980 The Death of Nature. Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. Harper and Row, San Francisco
  12. Merton R 1970 (1938) Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth-century England. Harper and Row, New York
  13. Rose H 1994 Love, Power and Knowledge. Toward a Feminist Transformation of the Sciences. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK
  14. Roszak T 1973 Where the Wasteland Ends: Politics and Transcendence in Post-industrial Society. Anchor, New York
  15. Russell C 1983 Science and Social Change 1700–1900. Macmillan, London
  16. Scheler M 1980 (1924) Problems of a Sociology of Knowledge. Routledge, London
  17. Schiebinger L 1993 Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science. Beacon, Boston
  18. Tambiah S 1990 Magic, Science, Religion and the Scope of Rationality. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
  19. Touraine A 1988 The Return of the Actor. Social Theory in Postindustrial Society. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN
Internationalization of Science And Technology Research Paper
Science And Religion Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get 10% off with the 24START discount code!