The Idea of Social Structure: Papers in Honor of Robert K. Merton

By Lewis A. Coser | Go to book overview

The Emergence of A Scientific Specialty: The Self-Exemplifying Case of the Sociology of Science *

JONATHAN R. COLE and HARRIET ZUCKERMAN

O VER the course of their careers, all working scientists have the opportunity to observe the growth of new fields of inquiry and the demise of old ones. Yet the emergence of new scientific specialties as cognitive and social entities seems to be a fact of the modern scientific life that is little understood. Physical and biological scientists have understandably been impatient to get on with their own work and few have paused to examine the emergence of one or another special field.1 Sociologists of knowledge have also not shown much interest in questions about the growth of scientific knowledge. They have occupied themselves primarily with inquiries into the social and existential bases of knowledge. It was not until a few sociologists began to study science as a social institution that more serious inquiry into the growth and differentiation of specialties began. In short, the emergence of scientific specialties became interesting only when a new scientific specialty came into being.

The sociology of science is curiously self-exemplifying. As a scientific specialty, it exhibits many of the social patterns its own practitioners study in other contexts, making it a convenient site for sociological study of emerging

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*
Research for this study was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation GS 33359X1 to the Columbia Program in the Sociology of Science and by the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where the second author was a Fellow in 1973-74. Bernard Barber, Stephen Cole, Yehuda Elkana, Joshua Lederberg and Arnold Thackray were kind enough to read and comment on early drafts of this paper.

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