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Social Study of Science

Steve Woolgar, Science: The Very Idea. New York: Tavistock Publications, 1988.

The issue is in the form of a question: what is science? What makes it different from other knowledge systems? The author offers a social study of science (SSS) which denies that science can be differentiated from non-science by decision rules: "Scientific knowledge does not arise from the application of pre-existing decision rules to particular hypotheses or generalizations" (17). What is classified as science may depend on the context in which the question is raised, and two such contexts are those of the nominalist and the essentialist. The essentialist approach sees science as constantly changing and as complex, but according to the nominalist, the search for an answer is futile.

The sociology of knowledge has neglected science. Variations in knowledge, says Woolgar, can be attributed to differences in class background, religious affiliation, social context, and so on. The SSS approach must cope with the separate sociological tradition of the sociology of science, which follows the essentialist position. Woolgar approaches the issue from the standpoint of methodology. Discussions about science face a fundamental dualism between representation and object. The problem of representation raises the issue of how we can be sure that the representation is a true reflection of the object, a problem applicable to all sciences. Woolgar discusses methodological horrors, or the ways in which attempts to effect connections between representation and object can go wrong: 1) indexicality, whereby the underlying reality changes depending on the timing of use; 2) inconcludability, since a final answer can never be made as long as it is possible to ask additional questions; and 3) reflexivity, since the sense of the representation is elaborated by drawing on "knowledge" of the object. Woolgar addresses managing these methodological horrors and identifi...

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Social Study of Science. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 11:09, April 21, 2019, from