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Title:A Critical Analysis of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge: Problems of Knowledge-Legitimation (Strong Programme, Rational Reconstruction, Relativism, Symmetry Thesis)
Author(s):Tibbetts, Paul Edison, Jr.
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Sociology, Theory and Methods
Abstract:Recent debates in the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) literature center on (i) the alleged distinction between the (sociological) context of inquiry and the (epistemological) context of justification, (ii) the relativist--rationalist controversy regarding questions of cognitive warrant, (iii) the tenets of the strong programme, particularly the symmetry and impartiality theses, and (iv) whether a consistent sociological and relativist reconstruction of scientific knowledge, which rejects any reference to universally binding, non-contingent cognitive criteria, is in principle possible. Issues (i)-(iv) are examined at length in this dissertation, particularly with reference to the strong programme of Barnes and Bloor, the empirical programme of relativism of Collins, and the ethnographic case studies of Knorr-Cetina, Latour and Woolgar, and Lynch. Recent criticisms of these authors are also examined at length.
On a sociological and relativist reconstruction, the processes of knowledge-generation and -legitimation in science are inseparable from the social, interpretive, negotiative and contextual contingencies that inform all inquiry. References to non-contingent epistemic criteria for evaluating knowledge claims are entirely dispensable on this sociological account. It is further argued that rather than being logically antecedent to and a necessary condition for empirical inquiry, such epistemic criteria are in fact defined and sustained by members' accounting practices and social negotiation within specific investigative contexts and therefore subject to revision over time. This point is then documented by four laboratory case-studies in the SSK literature of scientists' constructivist and accounting practices.
By rejecting the dichotomy between the (sociological) context of inquiry and the (epistemological) context of justification, scientific knowledge claims lose the privileged epistemic status argued for by more traditional analyses. The arguments and claims associated with such analyses are simply too abstract and empirically underinformed to take seriously the situational and interpretive contingencies surrounding day-to-day scientific practices. By contrast, the SSK research programme and explanatory paradigm together constitute a more conceptually coherent--though not entirely unproblematic--alternative to mainstream (Mertonian) sociological and rationalist reconstructions of scientific knowledge-generation and -legitimation.
Issue Date:1986
Description:313 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1986.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8610987
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-16
Date Deposited:1986

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