Teaching and Learning Guide for: 'The Sociologies of Knowledge, Science, and Intellectuals: Distinctive Traditions and Overlapping Perspectives'

Christine V. Wood*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This guide accompanies the following article: Christine V. Wood, 'The Sociologies of Knowledge, Science, and Intellectuals: Distinctive Traditions and Overlapping Perspectives', Sociology Compass 4/10 (2010): 909-923, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00328.x. It offers a list of texts that one could use in developing a course in the sociology of scientific knowledge, in the sociology of knowledge in general, or in a more specialized course on the field of scholarly production, experts and intellectuals, and the social organization of the academic profession and research sciences. Author's introduction: Few review and teaching materials exist that collect the diverse research exploring the social and institutional context in which scholarly and scientific ideas are generated, legitimated, and diffused. By zeroing in on the social 'field' or 'arena' of scholarly production, which may include the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, sociologists are better able to delineate the distinct analytic traditions that have emerged in studying various orderings of certified knowledge - whether philosophical, humanistic, social scientific, or scientific - and their producers. Despite obvious overlaps, the sociologies of knowledge, science, and intellectuals owe their origins as sociological sub-fields to distinctive theoretical and even methodological traditions. Considering intellectuals and experts as social groups working in specific social contexts, institutions, and making different kinds of claims to knowledge is different from studying the gestation of ideas and their content, whether these ideas are values, beliefs, assumptions, or scientific and academic theories. Within the sociology of knowledge, studies of the production of academic knowledge is a separate body of literature from studies of social cognition, collective memory, or the internalization of norms and values, and so some distinctions are necessary. In some sense, the sociology of knowledge as a grand project that could subsume the study of scientific knowledge and the study of intellectuals as a social class or group and of the academic professions. But many scholars draw boundaries between the sociologies of knowledge and science, owing to the empirical distinctions between an area of inquiry that subsumes the study of broad orderings of knowledge and a field that focuses on the distinct status and situation of natural and hard science in modern life - its content, institutional contexts, organization, normative structures, political conflicts, and applications. Depending on their research interests, scholars have drawn boundaries within the sub-fields of science studies, for instance by delineating between the 'political' sociology of science and the 'historical' sociology of science, or by focusing on the interactions between political and social movements and science and academia. Depending on the interests of the professor and the degree of specialization of a course, this guide offers a list of texts that one could use in developing a course in the sociology of scientific knowledge, in the sociology of knowledge in general, or in a more specialized course on the field of scholarly production, experts and intellectuals, and the social organization of the academic profession and research sciences. Author recommends: Following a chronology of sociological work on knowledge, science, and intellectuals, from the classical, 19th-Century theory of Karl Marx and Max Weber through the early and mid-20th-Century is to trace a neat trajectory of sociological theory in its various incarnations - foundational, functionalist, structural, institutional, political, historical, and cultural. Many classical essays in the sociology of knowledge and science are dispersed among larger texts devoted to the essays of key sociological thinkers. Within the sociology of knowledge or science, numerous volumes exist that detail foundational and specialized approaches in the field. For a primer in the modern sociologist's treatment of science as a social institution, an excellent collection is Robert Merton's The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, a compendium of essays from the thinker on science in modern societies, with attention paid to scientific institutions as they developed from the 17th-Century through the 20th-Centuries. What is most remarkable about Merton's collection of essays is that it sets the framework for many core themes that would later be elaborated by sociologists on questions of science, including the relationship of science to other institutions and conflicts among scientists over the prioritization of some programs of research and discovery over others. In a thesis that explored the 'interdependence' of science and other institutional spheres in seventeenth century England, where modern science was just beginning, Merton explored the 'interdependence' of science and other institutional spheres, occupational, religious, economic, and militaristic. Aside from this essentially 'macro' view of science, Merton also wrote on the 'Normative Structures of Science', where he discussed a conflict between the governing ethos of science and the attitudes of others across institutional and social spheres. He wrote that a tenet in science is that all scientists should in their research ignore all considerations other than the advance of knowledge, the justification being that consideration of the practical or social uses of the knowledge increases the possibility for bias and error. Merton claimed that this attitude had furnished a basis of revolt against science - once the applications of the science are discovered, those authorities or groups who disapprove of that application will turn their antipathy toward the science itself. Finally, in an essay on 'Priorities in Scientific Discovery', Merton laid the groundwork for the 'functionalist' perspective of science. He argued that science operates with governing norms of priority and originality, which places pressure on scientists to assert their claims as original. When science as an institution is working efficiently, those who have best fulfilled their roles as scientists will have made genuinely original contributions to the common stock of knowledge, and are afforded rightful esteem and recognition. The focus on the judgment of originality and credibility in science has sparked a wave of new scholarship, which I outline in the course syllabus and essay. Given the status of 'science and technology studies' as an ever expanding interdisciplinary field, several recent volumes collect contemporary essays in the social studies of science. A notable volume that contains diverse theoretical and methodological writings in the social studies of science is the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, edited by Edward J. Hackett, Olga Amsterdamska, Michael Lynch, and Judy Wajcman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007). Emphases on the political dimensions of scientific knowledge production are currently receiving a great deal of attention, with diverse research exploring the politics of nuclear proliferation, environmental justice movements, and the politics of gender and sexual difference in scientific and medical research. The New Political Sociology of Science: Institutions, Networks, and Power, edited by Scott Frickel and Kelly Moore, provides a good introduction (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006). Other edited volumes are useful as introductory texts to core essays and readings in the sociology of knowledge. A nice volume that contains overlapping research in the sociologies of knowledge and science is Society & Knowledge: Contemporary Perspectives in the Sociology of Knowledge & Science, edited by Volker Meja and Nico Stehr (Transaction Publishers, 2005). Sample syllabus: Since the sociologies of knowledge and science are such broad areas of research, the sample syllabus takes into account analysis of knowledge production in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities as well as the study of intellectuals as a group. For those that find the focus broad, recommended readings allow those with more interest in science and technology studies or in the study of expert communities to zero-in on specific bodies of literature. This course could be framed broadly as a course on the social contexts of knowledge production - science, knowledge, and modern research and academic vocations. A basic goal of the class is to encourage students to think more reflexively about science and about their own work as social scientists, while also to promote ongoing research on the ever changing social contexts of the academic professions and knowledge production in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. This 10week outline introduces theoretical texts and some exemplary case studies. Week 1: Introduction:: This session is an introduction to the sociological study of knowledge production, science, and intellectuals as a group. The class should discuss short pieces as foundational texts, which may include Gramsci's essay writing on intellectuals in Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971); excerpts from Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985), particularly those portions that deal with the social function of the intellectual and the 'classless intellectual'; Max Weber's essay 'Science as a Vocation' (Pp. 129-156 in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by H. Gerth and C. W. Mills, New York: Oxford University Press, 1958); and some more contemporary piece, perhaps Merton's essay 'Paradigm for the Sociology of Knowledge', a clarifying, comprehensive essay on the myriad topics that could be subsumed under the sociology of knowledge (in The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-133
Number of pages6
JournalSociology Compass
Volume5
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Teaching and Learning Guide for: 'The Sociologies of Knowledge, Science, and Intellectuals: Distinctive Traditions and Overlapping Perspectives''. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this