Sociology of Scientific Knowledge is a relatively new addition to sociology, emerging only several decades ago in the late 1970’s, and focuses on the theories and methods of science. It is seen as a notable success within the fields of sociology and sociology of science. In its infancy, SSK was primarily a British academic endeavor. These days, it is studied and practiced all over the world, with heavy influences in Germany, Scandinavia, Israel, the Netherlands, France, Australia, and North America.
David Hess tells us that in science, a black box is any device for which the input and output are specified but the internal mechanisms are not. “Sometimes the study of this content is described as ‘opening a black box’” (Whitley 1972). Advocates of SSK have criticized the Institutional Sociology of Science of leaving a black box of content unopened, and examining only the exogenous, institutional aspects of science and technology. Traditionally, studying the content of science from a sociological perspective had been very controversial.
Hess tells us that one way to characterize this study of the content of science and technology is with constructivism. He succinctly boils down the term and designates it as any approach which attempts to trace the incidences which shape the content of science and technology. However Hess also notes that “one can analyze the social factors that influence the content of scientific knowledge or technological design and yet also conclude that the constraints of observations or efficacy (the real world) play an equal or greater shaping role in what eventually becomes the consensus.” To understand this idea further, we can look at the term “social constructivism.” In simple terms, these are studies which treat the world we live in as a socially perpetuated independent variable that dictates which content, and by what means, becomes part of the collective knowledge that composes science and technology. Another constructivist point of view which relates to SSK is the idea of “heterogeneous constructivism,” or the belief that the content which makes up science and technology is intertwined and melded with social structures and practices in the greater community. By this theory, scientific content and the context within which it is held have equally mutual influence in shaping each other. This is often associated with actor-network-theory.
These constructivist considerations of the history of STS studies provides segmentation with which we can visualize the parallels from the Institutional Sociology of Science established back in the days of Robert Merton, and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge.
Conflict theory centers on the idea that social structures are created through conflict between people with unaligning interests and resources. Once these structures are created, they then influence individuals and resources that are in turn influenced by an unequal distribution of power and resources in a...