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To make science the object of sociological analysis directs attention to the production and consumption of scientiﬁc knowledge in diverse cultural contexts, institutional structures, local organizations, and immediate settings. The sociology of science divides into three broad lines of inquiry, each distinguished by a particular mix of theories and methods. The earliest systematic studies (mostly from the 1950s to the early 1970s) focus on the structural contexts of scientists’ behavior: what rules govern the pursuit of scientiﬁc knowledge, how are scientists judged and rewarded, how is scientiﬁc research broken up into dense networks of specialists? In the 1980s, sociologists shift their attention to the practices through which scientiﬁc knowledge is constructed—at the laboratory bench or in the rhetoric of professional papers. Starting in the 1990s, science is put in more encompassing societal contexts, as sociologists examine scientists as purveyors of cognitive authority, and explore their linkages to power, politics, and the economy.
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It is remarkable how much the literature in sociology of science is bunched into the last third of the twentieth century. Perhaps only after the deployment of nuclear weapons, or only after genetic engineering raised eugenic nightmares, could sociologists begin to think about science as a social problem rather than as a consistent solution; or maybe earlier generations of sociologists were guided by epistemological assumptions that rendered true scientiﬁc knowledge immune from social causes—thus putting it outside the orbit of sociological explanation.
1.1 Classical Anticipations
‘Science’ is nowhere indexed in Max Weber’s encyclopedic Economy and Society, a measure of his unwillingness or inability to see it as a consequential factor in human behavior or social change. Weber’s interest in science was largely methodological and political. Could the causal models employed so eﬀectively in the natural sciences be used as well to study social action? Does the objectivity and neutrality of the social scientist preclude involvement in political activity?
Emile Durkheim also sought to institutionalize sociology by making its methods appear scientiﬁcally precise, but at the same time considered scientiﬁc knowledge as an object of sociological study. Durkheim suggested that basic categories of thought and logic (such as time and space) are social in origin, in that they correspond to fundamental social categories (such as the division of a society by family or gender). However, as human societies grew in size and as their institutions became functionally diﬀerentiated, a distinctively scientiﬁc pursuit of knowledge was gradually insulated from such social causes. The observable facts of modern science, Durkheim concluded, were in accord with the reality of the physical world—a position that forestalled examinations of how observable facts are also shaped by the culture and communities in which they arise.
Karl Marx’s materialism would seem to commit him to the idea that all beliefs arise amid historically speciﬁc conditions of production, as they are shaped by the goals and interests of a ruling class. The rise of science in seventeenth-century Europe is intimately bound with the rise of industrial capitalism and, for Marx, can be explained in terms of the utilities of science-based technologies for improving productivity and enlarging surplus value. But although the rate of scientiﬁc growth may be explained by its congruence with the interests of the bourgeoisie, Marx seems to suggest that the content of scientiﬁc claims inside professionalized research networks is nonideological—that is, an objective account of natural reality.
1.2 Science In The Sociology Of Knowledge
Even more surprising is the failure of systematic sociological studies of science to emerge from a blossoming sociology of knowledge in the 1920s and 1930s. Neither Max Scheler nor Karl Mannheim, authors of foundational treatises on the social determinants of knowledge, inspired sustained inquiry into the social determinants of science—probably because both distinguished scientiﬁc knowledge from other kinds in a way that truncated what sociology could say about it. Scheler isolated the content of scientiﬁc knowledge—and the criteria for ascertaining validity—by describing these as absolute and timeless essences, not shaped by social interests. The eﬀects of social structure (speciﬁcally, the power of ruling elites) is limited to selections of problems and beliefs from that self-contained and essential realm of ideas.
Mannheim sustained the neo-Kantian distinction between formal knowledge of the exact sciences and socio-historical knowledge of culture. Phenomena of the natural world are invariant, Mannheim suggests, and so therefore are criteria for deciding truth (i.e., impartial observations based on accurate measurements). In contrast, cultural phenomena become meaningful only as they are constructed through interest-laden judgments of signiﬁcance, which are neither impartial nor invariant, and thus they are amenable to sociological explanation.
Robert K. Merton’s 1938 classic Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth-century England (see Merton 1973) tackles a fundamental problem: why did modern science emerge with a ﬂourish in seventeenth-century England? His answer has become known as the ‘Merton Thesis:’ an ethos of Puritanism that provided both the motivating force and legitimating authority for the pursuit of scientiﬁc inquiry. Certain religious values—e.g., God is gloriﬁed by an appreciation of his handiwork in Nature, or Blessed Reason separates human from beast—created a cultural context fertile for the rise of science. Merton also explains shifts in the foci of research attention among the early modern ‘natural philosophers’ by connecting empirical inquiry to the search for technological solutions to practical problems in mining, navigation, and ballistics.
2. Social Organization Of The Scientiﬁc Community
When concerted sociological studies of science began in the late 1950s and 1960s, research centered on the institutions or social structures of science—with relatively less attention given to the routine practices involved in making knowledge or to the wider settings in which science was conducted. This work was largely inspired by theories of structural-functional analysis, which ask how the community of scientists is organized in order to satisfy modern society’s need for certiﬁed, reliable knowledge. One distinctive feature of this ﬁrst phase is a reliance on quantitative methods of analysis. With statistical data drawn from surveys of scientists and from the Science Citation Index (and other bibliometric sources), sociologists developed causal models to explain individual variations in research productivity and used topographical techniques such as multidimensional scaling to map the dense networks of scientists working at a research front.
2.1 Norms Of Science
The shift from analyzing science in society to analyzing its internal social organization was eﬀected in Merton’s 1942 paper on the normative structure of science (in Merton 1973). Written under the shadow of Nazism, Merton argues that the success of scientists in extending certiﬁed knowledge depends, at once, on a salutary political context (namely democracy, which allows science a measure of autonomy from political intrusions and whose values are said to be congruent with those of science—quite unlike fascism) and on an internal institutionalized ethos of values held to be binding upon the behavior of scientists. This ethos comprised the famous norms of science: scientists should evaluate claims impersonally (universalism), share all ﬁndings (communism), never sacriﬁce truth for personal gain (disinterestedness) and always question authority (organized skepticism). Behavior consonant with these moral expectations is functional for the growth of reliable knowledge, and for that reason young scientists learn through precept how they are expected to behave, conformity is rewarded, and transgressions are met with outrage.
Subsequent work ignored Merton’s conjectures about science and democracy, as sociologists instead pursued implications of the four social norms. Studies of behavioral departures from these norms—ethnocentrism, secrecy, fraud, plagiarism, dogmatism— precipitated debates over whether such deviance is best explained by idiosyncratic characteristics of a few bad apples or changing structural circumstances (such as commercialization of research) that might trigger increases in such behavior. Sociologists continue to debate the possibility that Merton’s norms are better explained as useful ideological justiﬁcations of scientists’ autonomy and cognitive authority. Other research suggests that the norms guiding scientiﬁc conduct vary historically, vary among disciplines, vary among organizational contexts (university research vs. military or corporate research), and vary even in their situational interpretation, negotiation and deployment—raising questions about whether the norms identiﬁed by Merton are functionally necessary for enlarging scientiﬁc knowledge.
2.2 Stratiﬁcation And Scientiﬁc Careers
The norm of universalism in particular has elicited much empirical research, perhaps because it raises questions of generic sociological interest: how is scientiﬁc performance judged, and how are inequalities in the allocation of rewards and resources best described and explained? With eﬀective quantitative measures of individual productivity (number of publications or citations to one’s work), resources (grant dollars), and rewards (prizes, like the Nobel), sociologists have examined with considerable precision the determinants of individual career success or failure. Competition among scientists is intense, and the extent of inequality high: the distribution of resources and rewards in science is highly skewed. A small proportion of scientists publish most research papers (and those papers collect most citations), compete successfully for research grants and prestigious teaching posts, achieve international visibility and recognition, and win cherished prizes.
Debate centers on whether these observed inequalities in the reward system of science are compatible with the norm of universalism—which demands that contributions to knowledge be judged on their scientiﬁc merit, with resources and opportunities meted out in accordance with those judgments. The apparent elitism of science may result from an ‘accumulation of advantage’: work by relatively more eminent or well-positioned scientists is simply noticed more and thus tends to receive disproportional credit—which (over time) enlarges the gap between the few very successful scientists and everybody else. Such a process may still be universalistic because it is functional for the institutional goal of science: giving greater attention to research of those with accomplished track-records may be an eﬃcient triage of the overwhelming number of new candidate theories or ﬁndings. Others suggest that particularism contributes to the stratiﬁcation of scientists—old boy networks that protect turf and career reputations by rewarding sycophants. The underrepresentation of women in the higher echelons of science has called attention to sometimes subtle sexism that occurs early in the scientiﬁc career (restricted access to well-connected mentors, or essential research equipment, or opportunities to collaborate and assignment to trivial problems or mind-numbing tasks).
2.3 Institutionalization Of The Scientiﬁc Role
A separate line of sociological inquiry (exempliﬁed in work by Joseph Ben-David 1991 and Edward Shils) seeks an explanation for how science ﬁrst became a remunerable occupation—and later, a profession. How did the role of the scientist emerge from historically antecedent patterns of amateurs who explored nature part-time and generally at their own expense? The arrival of the ‘scientist’ as an occupational self-identiﬁcation with distinctive obligations and prerogatives is inseparable from the institutionalization of the modern university (itself dependent upon government patronage). Universities provided the organizational form in which the practice of science could become a full-time career—by fusing research with teaching, by allowing (ironically) the historic prestige of universities as centers of theology and scholasticism to valorize the new science, and by providing a bureaucratic means of paying wages and advancing careers.
The scientiﬁc role has also been institutionalized in corporate and government labs. The diﬃculties of transporting a ‘pure science’ ideal of university-based research into these very diﬀerent organizational settings have been the object of considerable sociological attention. Scientists in industry or government face a variety of competing demands: their research is often directed to projects linked to potential proﬁts or policy issues rather than steered by the agenda of their discipline or specialty; the need to maintain trade secrets or national security hampers the ability of scientists in these settings to publicize their work and receive recognition for it. And, as Jerome Ravetz (1971) suggests, the intrusion of ‘bureaucratic rationality’ into corporate and state science compromises the craft character of scientiﬁc work: largely implicit understandings and skills shared by the community of scientists and vital for the sustained accumulation of scientiﬁc wisdom have little place in accountabilities driven by the bottom-line or policy-relevance.
2.4 Disciplines And Specialties
Sociologists use a variety of empirical indicators to measure the social and cognitive connections among scientists: self-reports of those with whom a scientist exchanges ideas or preprints, subject-classiﬁcations of publications in topical indexes or abstract journals, lineages of mentor–student relationshships or collaborations, patterns of who cites whom or is cited with whom (‘co-citation’). The networks formed by such linkages show occasional dense clusters of small numbers of scientists whose informal communications are frequent, who typically cite each other’s very recent papers, and whose research focusses on some new theory, innovative method, or breakthrough problem. Emergence of these clusters—for example, the birth of radio astronomy in England after WWII, as described by David Edge and Michael Mulkay (1976)—is a signal that science has changed, both cognitively and socially: new beliefs and practices are ensconced in new centers for training or research with diﬀerent leaders and rafts of graduate students. Over time, these specialties evolve in a patterned way: the number of scientists in the network becomes much larger and connections among them more diﬀuse, the ﬁeld gets institutionalized with the creation of its own journals and professional associations, shattering innovations become less common as scientists work more on ﬁlling in details or adding precision to the now-aging research framework. As one specialty matures, another dense cluster of scientists emerges elsewhere, as the research front or cutting edge moves on.
3. Sociology Of Scientiﬁc Knowledge
A sea-change in sociological studies of science began in the 1970s with a growing awareness that studies of the institutional and organizational contexts shaping scientists’ behavior could not illuminate suﬃciently the processes that make science science: experimental tinkering, sifting of evidence, negotiation of claims, replacement of old beliefs about nature with new ones, achievement of consensus over the truth. All of these processes—observation, getting instruments and research materials (e.g., mice) to work, logic, criteria for justifying a ﬁnding as worthy of assent, choices among theories, putting arguments into words or pictures, persuading other scientists that you are correct—are uncompromisingly social, cultural, and historical phenomena, and so sociologists set about to explain and interpret the content of scientiﬁc knowledge by studying the routine practices of scientiﬁc work.
This research is guided by constructivist theories (and, less often, ethnomethodology), which center attention on the practically accomplished character of social life. Rather than allow a priori nature or given social structures to explain behavior or belief, constructivist sociologists examine how actors incessantly make and remake the structural conditions in which they work. Such research relies methodologically on historical case studies of scientiﬁc debate, up-close ethnographic observations of scientiﬁc practices, and on interpretative analysis of scientiﬁc texts.
3.1 Sociology Of Discovery
Diverse studies of scientiﬁc discovery illustrate the range of sociological perspectives brought to bear on these consequential events. An early line of inquiry focusses on the social and cognitive contexts that cause the timing and placing of discoveries: why did these scientists achieve a breakthrough then and there? Historical evidence points to a pattern of simultaneous, multiple and independent discoveries—that is, it is rare for a discovery to be made by a scientist (or a local team) who are the only ones in the world doing research on that speciﬁc question. Because honor and recognition are greatest for solutions to the perceivedly ‘hottest’ problems in a discipline, the best scientists are encouraged by the reward system of science to tackle similar lines of research. But these same social structures can also forestall discovery or engender resistance to novel claims. Cognitive commitments to a long-established way of seeing the natural world (reinforced by reputations and resources dependent upon those traditional perspectives) can make it diﬃcult for scientists to see the worthiness of a new paradigm. Resistance to new ideas seems to be greatest among older scientists, and in cases where the proposed discovery comes from scientists with little visibility or stature within the specialty or discipline that would be transformed.
More recent sociological research considers the very idea of ‘discovery’ as a practical accomplishment of scientists. Studies inspired by ethnomethodology oﬀer detailed descriptions of scientiﬁc work ‘ﬁrst-time-through,’ taking note of how scientists at the lab bench decide whether a particular observation (among the myriad observations) constitutes a discovery. Other sociologists locate the ‘moment’ of discovery in downstream interpretative work, as scientists narrate ﬁrst-time-through research work with labels such as ‘breakthrough.’ Such discovery accounts are often sites of dissensus, as scientists dispute the timing or implications of an alleged discovery amid ongoing judgments of its signiﬁcance for subsequent research initiatives or allocations of resources. These themes—interests, changing beliefs, ordinary scientiﬁc work, post-hoc accountings, dissent, persuasion— have become hallmarks of the sociology of scientiﬁc knowledge.
3.2 Interests And Knowledge-Change
In the mid-1970s to the 1980s, sociology of science took root at the Science Studies Unit in Edinburgh, as philosopher David Bloor developed the ‘strong programme,’ while Barry Barnes, Steven Shapin, Donald MacKenzie, and Andrew Pickering developed its sociological analog—the ‘interest model.’ The goal is to provide causal explanations for changes in knowledge—say, the shift from one scientiﬁc understanding of nature to a diﬀerent one. Scientists themselves might account for such changes in terms of greater evidence, coherence, robustness, promise, parsimony, predictive power, or utility of the new framework. Sociologists, in turn, account for those judgments in terms of social interests of scientists that are either extended or compromised by a decision to shift to the new perspective. What becomes knowledge is thus contingent upon the criteria used by a particular community of inquirers to judge competing understandings of nature, and also upon the goals and interests that shape their interpretation and deployment of those criteria. Several caveats are noted: interests are not connected to social positions (class, for example, or nationality, discipline, specialty) in a rigidly deterministic way; social interests may change along with changes in knowledge; choices among candidate knowledge-claims are not merely strategic— that is, calculations of material or symbolic gains are bounded by considerable uncertainty and by a shared culture of inquiry that provides standards for logical or evidential adequacy and for the proper use of an apparatus or concept.
Drawing on historical case studies of theoretical disputes in science—nineteenth-century debates over phrenology and statistical theory, twentieth-century debates among high-energy physicists over quarks— two diﬀerent kinds of interests are causally connected to knowledge-change. Political or ideological commitments can shape scientists’ judgments about candidate knowledge claims: the development of statistical theories of correlation and regression by Francis Galton, Karl Pearson and R. A. Fisher depended vitally on the utility of such measures for eugenic objectives. Diﬀerent social interests arise from the accumulated expertise in working with certain instruments or procedures, which incline scientists to prefer theories or models that allow them to capitalize on those skills.
3.3 Laboratory Practices And Scientiﬁc Discourse
As sociologists moved ever closer to the actual processes of ‘doing science,’ their research divided into two lines of inquiry: some went directly to the laboratory bench seeking ethnographic observations of scientists’ practices in situ; others examined scientists’ discourse in talk and texts—that is, their accounting practices. These studies together point to an inescapable conclusion: there is nothing not-social about science. From the step-by-step procedures of an experiment to writing up discovered facts for journal publication, what scientists do is describable and explicable only as social action—meaningful choices contingent on technical, cognitive, cultural, and material circumstances that are immediate, transient, and largely of the scientists’ own making.
Laboratory ethnographies by Karin Knorr-Cetina (1999), Michael Lynch (1993), and Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (1986) reveal a science whose order is not to be found in transcendent timeless rules of ‘scientiﬁc method’ or ‘good lab procedures,’ but in the circumstantial, pragmatic, revisable, and iterative choices and projects that constitute scientiﬁc work. These naturalistic studies emphasize the local character of scientiﬁc practice, the idea that knowledge making is a process situated in particular places with only these pieces of equipment or research materials or colleagues immediately available. Never sure about how things will turn out in the end, scientists incessantly revise the tasks at hand as they try to get machines to perform properly, control wild nature, interpret results, placate doubting collaborators, and rationalize failures. Even methodical procedures widely assumed to be responsible for the objective, deﬁnitive, and impersonal character of scientiﬁc claims—experimental replication, for instance—are found to be shot-through with negotiated, often implicit, and potentially endless judgments about the competence of other experimentalists and the ﬁdelity of their replication-attempts to the original (as Harry Collins (1992) has suggested).
Ethnographic studies of how scientists construct knowledge in laboratories compelled sociologists then to ﬁgure out how the outcomes of those mundane contextual practices (hard facts, established theories) could paradoxically appear so unconstructed—as if they were given in nature all along, and now just found (not made). Attention turned to the succession of ‘inscriptions’ through which observations become knowledge—from machine-output to lab notebook to draft manuscript to published report. Scientists’ sequenced accounts of their fact-making rhetorically erase the messy indeterminacy and opportunism that sociologists have observed at the lab bench, and substitute a story of logic, method, and inevitability in which nature is externalized as waiting to be discovered. Such studies of scientiﬁc discourse have opened up an enduring debate among constructivist sociologists of science: those seeking causal explanations for scientists’ beliefs treat interests as deﬁnitively describable by the analyst, while others (Gilbert and Mulkay 1984, Woolgar 1988) suggest that sociologists must respect the diversity of participants’ discursive accounts of their interests, actions, or beliefs—and thus treat actors’ talk and text not as mediating the phenomena of study but as constituting them.
3.4 Actor-Networks And Social Worlds
After sociologists worked to show how science is a thoroughly social thing, Bruno Latour (1988) and Michel Callon (1986) then retrieve and reinsert the material: science is not only about facts, theories, interests, rhetoric, and power but also about nature and machines. Scientists accomplish facts and theories by building ‘heterogenous networks’ consisting of experimental devices, research materials, images and descriptive statistics, abstract concepts and theories, the ﬁndings of other scientists, persuasive texts—and, importantly, none of these are reducible to any one of them, nor to social interests. Things, machines, humans, and interests are, in the practices of scientists, unendingly interdeﬁned in and through these networks. They take on meanings via their linkages to other ‘actants’ (a semiotic term for anything that has ‘force’ or consequence, regardless of substance or form). In reporting their results, scientists buttress claims by connecting them to as many diﬀerent actants as they can, in hopes of defending the putative fact or theory against the assault of real or potential dissenters. From this perspective, length makes strength, that is, the more allies enrolled and aligned into a network—especially if that network is then stabilized or ‘black boxed’—the less likely it is that dissenters will succeed in disentangling the actants and thereby weaken or kill the claim. Importantly for this sociology of science, the human and the social are decentered, in an ontology that also ascribes agency to objects of nature or experimental apparatuses.
Actor-network theory moved the sociological study of science back outside the laboratory and professional journal—or, rather, reframed the very idea of inside and outside. Scientists and their allies ‘change the world’ in the course of making secure their claims about nature, and in the same manner. In Latourian vernacular, not only are other scientists, bits of nature or empirical data enlisted and regimented, but also political bodies, protest movements, the media, laws and hoi polloi. When Louis Pasteur transformed French society by linking together microbes, anthrax, microscopes, laboratories, sick livestock, angry farmers, nervous Parisian milk-drinkers, public health oﬃcials, lawmakers, and journalists into what becomes a ‘momentous discovery,’ the boundary between science and the rest of society is impossible to locate. Scientists are able to work autonomously at their benches precisely because so many others outside the lab are also ‘doing science,’ providing the life support (money, epistemic acquiescence) on which science depends.
The boundaries of science also emerge as theoretically interesting in related studies derived from the brand of symbolic interactionism developed by Everett Hughes, Herbert Blumer, Anselm Strauss, and Howard Becker (and extended into research on science by Adele Clarke 1990, Joan Fujimura, and Susan Leigh Star). On this score, science is work—and, instructively, not unlike work of any other kind. Scientists (like plumbers) pursue doable problems, where ‘doability’ involves the articulation of tasks across various levels of work organization: the experiment (disciplining research subjects), the laboratory (dividing labor among lab technicians, grad students, and postdocs), and ‘social worlds’ (the wider discipline, funding agencies, or maybe animal-rights activists). Scientiﬁc problems become increasingly doable if ‘boundary objects’ allow for cooperative intersections of those working on discrete projects in diﬀerent social worlds. For example, success in building California’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in the early twentieth century depended upon the standardization of collection and preparation practices (here, the specimens themselves become boundary objects) that enabled biologists to align their work with trappers, farmers, and amateur naturalists in diﬀerent social worlds. As in actor-network theory, sociologists working in the ‘social worlds’ tradition make no assumption about where science leaves oﬀ and the rest of society begins—those boundaries get settled only provisionally, and remain open to challenge from those inside and out.
4. Science As Cultural Authority
It is less easy to discern exactly what the sociology of science is just now, and where it is headed. Much research centers on the position of science, scientists, and scientiﬁc knowledge in the wider society and culture. Science is often examined as a cognitive or epistemic authority; scientists are said to have the legitimate power to deﬁne facts and assess claims to truth. This authority is not treated as an inevitable result of the character or virtue of those who become scientists, the institutional organization of science (norms, for example) or of the ‘scientiﬁc method.’ It is, rather, an accomplished resource pursued strategically by a profession committed not only to extending knowledge but also to the preservation and expansion of its power, patronage, prestige, and autonomy.
No single theoretical orientation or methodological program now prevails. Constructivism remains appealing as a means to render contingent and negotiable (rather than ‘essential’) those features of scientiﬁc practice said to justify its epistemic authority. But as the agenda in the sociology of science shifts from epistemological issues (how is knowledge made?) to political issues (whose knowledge counts, and for what purposes?), constructivism has yielded to a variety of critical theories (Marxism, feminism and postmodernism) that connect science to structures of domination, hierarchy, and hegemony. A popular research site among sociologists of science is the set of occasions where scientists ﬁnd their authority challenged by those whose claims to knowledge lack institutional legitimacy.
4.1 Credibility And Expertise
Steven Shapin (1994) (among others) has identiﬁed credibility as a constitutive problem for the sociology of science. Whose knowledge-claims are accepted as believable, trustworthy, true or reliably useful—and on what grounds? Plainly, contingent judgments of the validity of claims depend upon judgments of the credibility of the claimants—which has focussed sociological attention on how people use (as they deﬁne) qualities such as objectivity, expertise, competence, personal familiarity, propriety, and sincerity to decide which candidate universe becomes provisionally ‘real.’ A long-established line of sociological research examines those public controversies that hinge, in part, on ‘technical’ issues. Case studies of disputes over environmental and health risks ﬁnd a profound ambivalence: the desire for public policy to be decided by appropriate legislative or judicial bodies in a way that is both understandable and accountable to the populace runs up against the need for expert skills and knowledge monopolized by scientiﬁc, medical or engineering professionals. Especially when interested publics are mobilized, such disputes often become ‘credibility struggles’ (as Steven Epstein (1998) calls them). In his study of AIDS politics, Epstein traces out a shift from activists’ denunciation of scientists doing research on the disease to their gaining a ‘seat at the table’ by learning enough about clinical trials and drug development to participate alongside scientists in policy decisions. In this controversy, as in many others, the cultural boundaries of science are redrawn to assign (or, alternatively, to deny) epistemic authority to scientists, would-be scientists, citizens, legislators, jurists, and journalists.
4.2 Critique Of Science
Recent sociological studies have themselves blurred the boundaries between social science and politics by examining the diverse costs and beneﬁts of science. Whose agenda does science serve—its own? global capital? political and military elites? colonialism? patriarchy? the Earth’s? Studies of molecular biology and biotechnology show how the topics chosen for scientiﬁc research—and the pace at which they are pursued—are driven by corporate ambitions for patents, proﬁts, and market-share. Related studies of the Green Revolution in agricultural research connect science to imperialist eﬀorts to replace indigenous practices in less developed countries with ‘advanced technologies’ more consonant with the demands of global food markets. Feminist researchers are equally interested in the kinds of knowledge that science brings into being—and, even more, the potential knowledges not sought or valorized. In the nineteenth century, when social and natural science oﬀered logic and evidence to legitimate patriarchal structures, other styles of inquiry and learning practiced among women (Parisian salons, home economics, midwifery, and cookery) are denounced as unscientiﬁc and, thus, suspect. Other feminists challenge the hegemony of scientiﬁc method, as a way of knowing incapable of seeing its own inevitable situatedness and partiality; some suggest that women’s position in a genderstratiﬁed society oﬀers distinctive epistemic resources that enable fuller and richer understandings of nature and culture.
These critical studies share an interest in exposing another side of science: its historical complicity with projects judged to be inimical to goals of equality, human rights, participatory democracy, community and sustainable ecologies. They seek to fashion a restructured ‘science’ (or some successor knowledge maker) that would be more inclusive in its practitioners, more diverse in its methods, and less tightly coupled to power.
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