The sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) is one of the profession’s most marginal specialties, yet its objects of inquiry, its modes of inquiry, and certain of its findings have very substantial bearing upon the nature and scope of the sociological enterprise in general. While traditional sociology of knowledge asked how, and to what extent, “social factors” might influence the products of the mind, SSK sought to show that knowledge was constitutively social, and in so doing, it raised fundamental questions about taken-for-granted divisions between “social versus cognitive, or natural, factors.” This piece traces the historical development of the sociology of scientific knowledge and its relations with sociology and cultural inquiry as a whole. It identifies dominant “localist” sensibilities in SSK and the consequent problem it now confronts of how scientific knowledge travels. Finally, it describes several strands of criticism of SSK that have emerged from among its own practitioners, noting the ways in which some criticisms can be seen as a revival of old aspirations toward privileged meta-languages.
Annual Review of Sociology – Annual Reviews
Published: Aug 1, 1995
Keywords: philosophy of science; relativism; realism; localism; natural attitude
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