Sociology of sciences
The sociology of sciences aims at including/understanding logics of a sociological nature with work in the production of the scientific knowledge. It thus pays an special attention to the Institution S scientists, the concrete work of the researchers, to the structuring of the scientific communities, the standards and rules guiding the scientific activity, etc
The sociology of sciences approaches sets of themes often approaching the epistemology like the truth or knowledge, with from the often critical points of view towards the tradition positivist such as one finds some within the epistemology constructivist.
Robert K. Merton
The father of the sociology of sciences is Robert K. Merton which, the first, regards science as a “normalized social structure”. In an article of 1942 become traditional of the sociology of sciences (“The Normative Structure off Science”, republished in 1973), Merton identifies a whole of Norme S which together constitute what it calls Ethos of science and are supposed to guide the practices of the individuals and to ensure the community his autonomy:
the Universalism , which is a methodological injunction aiming at the considerations which can be retained at the time of the formulation of a judgment. the acceptance or the rejection of a scientific proposal should not depend on the social attributes or personnel on the enonciator. the respect of this standard, as for the following ones, is not tributary of any good will of the scientists. It is registered in the middle of the control system of the production of knowledge. Thus, in a Reading panel, the names of the people chosen to evaluate a text subjected to publication are held secret.
Communism, still called “ Communalisme ” to avoid confusions, derives from the recognition by Merton of the character of “public property” of the scientific knowledge. The examination of the proposals put forth by the scientists being a collective process, it should not be made obstacle with their freedom of movement within the community. Consequently, the private appropriation must be to the minimum reduced .
the Désintéressement , as Merton underlines it, is certainly not the translation of morals qualities specific to the researchers (altruism, honesty, libido sciendi…), but the mark of a control system rewarding the scientifically valid results . The scientist, even (and especially?) most mercantile, does not may find it beneficial any to make circulate a doubtful result. What according to Merton explains “the quasi-absence of frauds in annals of science” (Merton 1973, p. 276). This third standard will be of course in the middle of more the critical sharp addressed to Merton.
the Skepticism organized : the results are subjected to a critical examination before being accepted and can always be called into question. This standard is not the shape of instinctive distrust of the researcher with respect to the dogmas or the acts of faith, but well rather the institutionalization of the handing-over in systematic question of the results of the researchers, through devices such as the reviews at reading panel, which condition the publication of an article to its critical second reading by the pars of the author. It is also a methodological rule which consists in not respecting cleavages between the Sacré and the Profane, between what requires a blind respect and what can be objectively analyzed.
This whole of standards is not delivered by Merton on the basis of its intuition of realities of the scientific world. It is the result of the examination, from a sociological point of view, scientific and technical revolution which the England at the end of the 17th century knew. It shows in particular that certain values conveyed by the Puritanisme could have contributed to the acceleration of the development of science in this country.
These four standards, which are interiorized by the scientists during their training and are maintained by their institutional insertion in the system, make science a distinct and relatively autonomous social system, which they stabilize and control by protecting it from abuses internal and while enabling him to resist the influences and intrusions of the political actors and economic. They make possible the exercise of a free rationality.
It is in a democratic society that these standards are likely the most to be respected, supporting the development of science. Sociology mertonienne of sciences dominates the Années 1950 and 1960. She refuses to be interested in the contents of the science which she regards as being spring of the epistemology.
From the Years 1970, the renewal of the sociology of sciences passes by the criticism of the “institutional” sociology which refuses to consider the scientific contents while being based on a philosophy positivist of sciences. It is a question of opening the “block box” of science.
Current SSK ( Sociology off Scientific Knowledge ) gathers two teams of sociologists who, on the basis of the common assumption that the scientific contents are entirely determined by the company and the culture, carry out rather close programs of study. These two relativistic programs are:
the strong Program ( Strong Program ). Conceived into the years 1970 with the University of Edinburgh by David Bloor and Barry Barnes, the strong program rejects a sociology of the error, which calls upon two different types of explanation traditionally according to whether a scientific theory meets success or on the contrary the failure: on a side, the truth and rationality, other, social, psychological and ideological factors. Social causes, rather than natural, must make it possible to explain successes like the failures, the true beliefs like the false beliefs (principle of symmetry). The case studies inspired of the strong programme mainly treat the Histoire of sciences.
the empirical Program of the relativism ( Empirical Program off Relativism or EPOR). Born in the prolongation from the strong and conceived program with the University of Bath by Harry Hakes, the EPOR seeks to show the interpretative flexibility of the experimental results. It has as an aim privileged of study the scientific controversies which result from this flexibility. Since there does not exist crucial experiment making it possible to close a controversy, in fact social mechanisms will impose a single interpretation. The negotiation takes place within an small group of specialists (called core set ) whose other scientists accept the conclusions. It is thus approach of a microsociologic type. The sociologists taking part in the EPOR inquire preferably into contemporary cases, sometimes at the border of sciences.
The critics of the relativistic programs denounce the party taken reductionistic of the principle of symmetry which consists in excluding the natural factors in success or the failure from a scientific theory. If they recognize that there exists a certain interpretative flexibility of the data of an experiment, possible interpretations remain limited and cannot be handled with the liking of the interests of such or such researcher.
Foucault and Latour
In France, the sociology of sciences is not unaware of this framework posed in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. It develops however starting from concerns less dogmatically stated by privileging the analysis of concrete questions: the emergence of the Psychology like a means of including/understanding the Madness, via the passage by the idea of Mental disease (Michel Foucault, History of the Madness at the traditional age), the construction of a new medical practice in the hospital at the XIXe century (Michel Foucault, Birth of the Clinical ), practice of inscription in the writing of the data built in a Laboratory (Bruno Latour, Life of laboratory ).
The sociological reflection on sciences and technology endeavors to refuse the ideological representations which the give Enquiring S scientists of their own activity, it subjects the activity of the researchers and the laboratories to the same questions and the same astonishments that it uses to include/understand the groups of youth townsmen, of the companies very different as those who remain (with difficulty) in Amazonia or the professionals from the Musique.
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