Robert Prus on The New (Constructionist) Sociology of Science

In Symbolic Interaction and Ethnographic Research (pp. 94-98, 1996) Robert Prus examines the Sociology of Science that Mike Mulkay pioneered. Originating in the work of Robert Merton (1957, 1973) and Thomas Kuhn (1962), Mulkay developed a post-Mertonian sociology of Science. Much of the groundwork was done long before he came to Aberdeen. He was at Cambridge University until 1966 and then at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada from 1966 to 1973. The Sociology Department at Simon Fraser was where critical sociology had an early burst of radical activity:

“The campus was noted in the 1960s and early 1970s as a hotbed of political activism, culminating in a crisis in the Department of Political Science, Sociology, and Anthropology in a dispute involving ideological differences among faculty. The resolution to the crisis included the dismantling of the department into today’s separate departments.[15]”

Interestingly enough, Mulkay wrote a join article with a colleague from Simon Fraser, Anthony T. Williams “A Sociological Study of a Physics Department” British Journal of Sociology March 1971 Vol.22 No. 1 pp. 68-82. In the same year he co-authored an article with Bryan S. Turner “Overproduction of personnel and innovation in three  social settings” Sociology, January 1971, Vol. 5 No. 1 pp. 47-61.

Bryan Turner later was appointed to the Chair of Sociology at Flinders University, following the resignation there of Iván Szelényi, who moved to a chair at Yale university. I remember that because I went to one or two of the Flinders Sociology  seminars prior to my leaving for a post at Birmingham University in 1979.

Bryan Turner himself became interested in the issue of health but in the context of developing a sociology of the body, especially Body and Society. Explorations in Social Theory. London: Sage (2008, third revised edition) and The New Medical Sociology. New York: Norton (2004).

Robert Prus’ analysis of the work of Mulkay and others who wrote about this later is best summed up as follows:

“The constructionist sociology of science views science as both a social product and a social process. If one adopts this viewpoint, the term “science” might be applied to any set of sustained, intensified enquiries into some realm of human awareness.This is not to deny that all realms of “scientific enquiry” rare equally valid or productive, for indeed the claim presupposes a fixed reference point. Rather, notions of “science” are judged by reference to particular cultural contexts.” Prus (1996, p.97. Emphasis in original).

This as we have seen in the preceding post, is the reluctant conclusion Mulkay himself comes to, in his fruitless search for an overarching theory of science.


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