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Strong Programme in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Gethin Rees


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The Strong Programme in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, developed in the 1960s at the University of Edinburgh, provides sociological explanations for the achievement of the status of knowledge for certain claims at the expense of others. Often referred to simply as the Strong Programme, Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), or the Edinburgh School, it is critical of previous sociologies of science that had avoided discussing scientific knowledge itself and focused on the norms and values of science as a career (see for instance Merton, 1942). Such an approach was antithetical to most of the scholarship within the history and philosophy of science of the time, notably the works of Imre Lakatos, who argued that correct knowledge was self-evident and did not require further explanation. Rather, Lakatos claimed, it was incorrect knowledge or unsupported beliefs that required explanation, with social factors impeding knowledge, resulting in bias that lead to incorrect claims. Strong Programmers such as Barry Barnes, David Bloor, and others were critical of such a sociology of error (where only error was explained via sociological explanation) and instead produced a programme for the study of the sociology of scientific knowledge, based on four key tenets: 1. It would be causal, that is, concerned with the conditions that bring about belief or states of knowledge. Naturally, there will be other types of causes apart from social ones which will cooperate in bringing about belief. 2. It would be impartial with respect to truth and falsity, rationality or irrationality, success or failure. Both sides of these dichotomies will require explanation. 3. It would be symmetrical in its style of explanation. The same types of cause would explain, say, true and false beliefs. 4. It would be reflexive. In principle, its patterns of explanations would have to be applicable to sociology itself. (Bloor, 1991, p. 7) This entry explores the transition from weak to strong forms in the sociology of science, before highlighting some of the misunderstandings surrounding the Strong Programme, particularly regarding its relativism and the conventional nature of knowledge. This entry concludes with a discussion of one of the most powerful tools developed by the Strong Programme, finitism (Barnes et al., 1996), which continues to be used to study a range of scientific, technological, and medical practices.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Rees G

Series Editor(s): Atkinson P, Delamont S, Williams R, Cernat A, Sakshaug JW

Publication type: Scholarly Edition

Publication status: Published

Series Title: Sage Research Methods Foundations

Year: 2019

Volume: 11

Online publication date: 17/09/2020

Acceptance date: 05/02/2020

ISBN: 9781529746624

Publisher: SAGE

Place Published: London


DOI: 10.4135/9781526421036805734

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item