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Sociological and Anthropological Studies of Science
Science as Social
As Sismondo has summarised (2004), Science and Technology Studies (STS) begins from the assumption that science and technology are thoroughly social activities. STS is an umbrella term encompassing a variety of social scientific approaches to understanding science and technology and their relationship and interdependencies with society. As sociologists and anthropologists have long understood, scientists and engineers are members of communities, trained in those communities and working within them. Communities set standards and evaluate knowledge claims. They engage in resource struggles and need to present science rhetorically in order to convince their peers and sponsors. Values, conflict and the politics of knowledge exchnage are therefore inherent to science. In addition, the tensions and dynamics of wider societies – e.g. class, gender, and national culture – tend to shape scientific trajectories and can be mirrored within scientific endeavours. A commonly accepted way of describing this is to recognise that many diverse social groups are also knowledge-actors, users and contributors. Their different ideas of purposes help shape what counts as working, valid knowledge.
STS and anthropology of science therefore take an ‘anti-essentialist’ position with respect to science and technology. This means that science and technology are not defined or constrained solely by nature. Science and technology, and what we call scientific ‘facts’ are, these approaches argue, shaped both by society and nature.
What does this mean in practice?
Sergio Sismondo has written one of the most accessible introductions to Science and Technology Studies: Sismondo, S. (2004) An introduction to Science and Technology Studies, Oxford: Blackwell.
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