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On the Sociology of Science (STS)
1. Key Orientation of STS (and Religion):
 Science & Religion as Social Products/Institutions
 Facts, Methods, Concepts, Theories and ways-ofstudying
2. Tools of a Sociological analysis
 Social Epistemology
 Social Constructivism
 Bruno Latour on “critique”
Key Orientations of STS
 Science is a thoroughly social activity (therefore a
sociological analysis is appropriate)
 The process are subtle (complex) interweavings of
practices, philosophies, and dialectical relations with the
material world.
 General rejection of the Common View of Science. (PUS)
– E.g., material world is not mechanically translated into knowledge
(e.g., “discovery.”);
– The Material world is USED by scientists to develop models.
A Sociological Understanding…
On the Sociology of Science
 Sociologists often say something is
“socially constructed”.
 That IS NOT
– “It’s simply a social construction.”
On the Sociology of Science
 Basic Principle:
 'what is taken to be real is real in its consequences'.
W.I. Thomas:
– "If people define situations as real, they are
real in their consequences."
Social Epistemology
 study of the intellectual process of society
 the analysis of the
– production
– distribution
– utilization
of intellectual products
(just like other products – what are the materials,
knowledge, mechanical & other processes that go into
their production? What are the economic conditions, or
policy [political] arrangements that facilitate or inhibit?)
What is Knowledge?
Social Construction
 An example - perception matters
– Husband sees an event the way he sees it
– Wife sees an event the way she it
– Who’s right?
– What does the marital counsellor do?
 Sociologically: Perception is a SHARED
process (construction)
 Do we want an example?
On the Sociology of Science from Bruno Latour (2004)
 The Point of Social Constructivist versions
of Science Studies
– “I myself have spent some time in the past
trying to show "the lack of scientific certainty"
inherent in the construction of facts.”
– The point is “to emancipate us from
prematurely naturalized objectified facts”
On the Sociology of Science from Bruno Latour (2004)
 The Point of Social Constructivist versions
of Science Studies (Cont.)
– “The question was never to get away from facts
but to get closer to them.”
– “Reality is not defined by matters of fact.”
– “Matters of fact are only very partial and very
polemical, very political renderings of matters
of concern.”
On the Sociology of Science
 Latour concludes:
– “Whereas the Enlightenment profited largely from the
disposition of a very powerful descriptive tool, that of
matters of fact -- which were excellent for debunking
quite a lot of beliefs, powers, and illusions -- it found
itself totally disarmed once matters of fact, in turn, were
eaten up by the same debunking impetus.”
– (e.g., climate change science, oilsands, etc –
Fruedenburg, Davidson &Gramling, 2008; Scientific
unCertainty Argumentation Method (“SCAM”)
 Energy industry PR strategist)
"Should the public come to believe that the
scientific issues are settled, their views about
global warming will change accordingly.
Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack
of scientific certainty a primary issue.”
 But it IS uncertain (as scientists understand
certainty - Proof)
 ignoring these aspects (practices, PUS) of Science
and their uses/different-uses imperils us.
On the Sociology of Science
 Latour concludes:
– “The critical mind, if it is to be relevant again,
must devote itself to the cultivation of a
stubborn realism, but a realism dealing with
what I will call matters of concern, not matters
of fact.”
On the Sociology of Science
– Social Constructivism means “science, like
other social practices invented by humans is a
construction of those humans, ergo, a “social
– Social constructivism is a “way of seeing” a
tool to be used to understand social practices.
– It contests REALIST (and other) orientations.
– There are several varieties of Soc. Const “weak” versions to “strong” versions.