The Sociology of Science

One sociologist at Aberdeen University in the late 1960s almost single-handedly developed the sociology of science: Mike Mulkay:

Michael Joseph Mulkay (born 1936) is a retired British sociologist of science. He worked as a reader and researcher at the University of Cambridge until 1966, he was then lecturer in sociology at Simon Fraser University 1966 to 1969, at Aberdeen University from 1969 to 1973, and then as Professor of Sociology at the University of York, from which he retired in 2001. A number of his students have gone on to take distinguished academic posts, including Nigel GilbertSteve WoolgarSteve Yearley, Andrew Webster and Jonathan Potter.”  (

Mike Mulkay used his time at Cambridge to recruit young experts in different areas of science to his idea of founding specialist branches of studies of science. All this was done before he came to Aberdeen Sociology in 1969. Perhaps he learned of Aberdeen sociology’s prominence in symbolic interaction from the York Deviancy Symposia? The timing would suggest it. I know he was very disillusioned by the decision by Raymond Illsley to focus on medical sociology, though perhaps he would have moved to York anyway in 1973.

The first fruits of this was the book Astronomy Transformed: the emergence of radio astronomy in Britain (Wiley, 1976), researched and written together with yet another Cambridge researcher, David O. Edge, and published in 1976. For a book review see Technology and Society (1979).  Edge’s obituary was published in Social Studies of Science. Steve Woolgar is well-known for his collaboration with Bruno Latour especially Laboratory Life: the social construction of scientific facts (1979). Andrew Webster was Mulkay’s successor as Head of the Department of Sociology at York.

Mulkay’s retirement was a major affair, combined as it was with the 45th anniversary of the department:

Mike Mulkay has always been very retiring and unassuming. He was recruited to York by the then Professor and Head of Department, Laurie Taylor. At the time Mulkay was at York I was often teaching in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at York University  on a course that Stuart Lowe was running for housing managers, that gave me the opportunity to relate housing policy to my interest in ordoliberalism, and that was received with enthusiasm by the housing managers who took the course.

Another Aberdeen symbolic interactionist exile also went to York in 1973: Anthony J. Wootton. He had specialised in interpersonal interaction. Paul Drew and Anthony Wootton, eds. Erving Goffman: Exploring the interaction order (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988. 298 pp. $40.00, cloth).

There is a thriving Society for Social Studies of Science. The main journal has been from the start (1971) Social Studies of Science but there are other more specialised journals founded from the inspiration of the general idea, like Technology and SocietyScience as Culture, New Genetics & Society, and Engineering Studies.

I became inspired by the sociology of science after the publication of Astronomy Transformed, and Laboratory Life, both published in the late 1970s, an inspiration that resulted in my publishing symbolic interactionist articles during the 1980s.

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