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Todd Suomela

Sociology and History: Shapin on the Merton Thesis « Ether Wave Propaganda - 1 views

  • Shapin observed that the link Merton drew between Puritanism and seventeenth-century English science was a matter of happenstance rather than determinism. According to Merton, science requires certain “values” and “sentiments” allowing intellectual individualism, and fostering not only an interest in the transcendent, but also secular improvement. It so happened that these values and sentiments were to be found in Puritan asceticism and sense of social obligation, which thus provided a social context in which science could develop.

    Definitively, this was not to say that Puritanism provided a unique source of these values and sentiments, or that science did not have other roots. It was obviously possible for science to develop in Catholic contexts as well, despite the less hospitable value system of Catholicism. The confluence of values simply seemed to promise some insight into the growth of science in a particular time and place.

  • Robert K. Merton’s “functionalist” sociology viewed “science” as a kind of Weberian ideal type — a form of thought that is identifiable by its peculiar, philosophically-defined characteristics. Merton’s sociology of science held that this thought could also be identified with social behaviors, characterized by a set of “norms”, which made the thought possible.

    The Merton Thesis (which slightly predates Merton’s enumeration of science’s norms) holds that the rise of science in early-modern England could be linked to the social behaviors valued by the Puritanism of that milieu. This was the subject of Merton’s PhD thesis and his 1938 book Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth-Century England.

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    Great link. Thanks
Todd Suomela

Norms, "Ideology", and the Move against "Functionalist" Sociology « Ether Wav... - 1 views

  • However, at the same time, another critique questioned the basic validity of that framework. This critique shared the SSK critique’s interest in describing actual scientific work, but, like Mertonian sociology, it focused on scientists’ and others’ sense of the essence of scientific culture without directly addressing knowledge-production processes. This critique held that, because “functionalist” ideal-type systems of scientific behavior could not actually be found in their pure form, such systems did not meaningfully exist. Legitimate sociology had to be obtained inductively from the empirical record, as studied by historians and ethnologists.
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    Very interesting summary of debates on SSK and Mertonian science studies during the mid-20c. Describes the move away from functional, ideal-type, descriptions a la Merton to more historically specific microhistories a la Daston.
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