Does sociology of science need philosophy? Philosophical versus constructivist sociology reconstructions of research procedures of contemporary science
Based on analyses of significant publications in the sociology of science one can conclude that the attitude towards philosophical accounts of science differentiates essentially “classical” sociology of science from “non-classical” one. The classical sociology of science represented by Robert Merton virtually omits epistemological issues, leaving them to philosophers and refrains itself from explaining the content of scientific beliefs. Philosophy is thus not important for Robert Merton and his followers who present science as an institution and try to explain it as such.
This is not the case for the “non-classical” sociologists of science, such as the representatives of constructivist approaches: SSK (Sociology of Scientific Knowledge), SSST (Social Studies of Science and Technology), SSS (Social Studies of Science), for whom the philosophical account of science is an important frame of reference (usually in a negative way), as they construct their insights into science in opposition to the philosophical ones.
The stage of formation of their original research programmes proves to be a relevant factor here. Thus, the representatives of the so-called “strong programme,” Barry Barnes and David Bloor, refer in their first publications to the conceptual framework of philosophy of science and apply notions borrowed from epistemology. Representatives of SSK/SSS/SSST, such as Nigel Gilbert and Michael Mulkay, who analyse the research procedures of contemporary science, strive to prove that the conceptual framework of philosophical epistemology is not suited for analyses of science in situ. Others, like Steve Woolgar and Bruno Latour, create their own reconstructions of processes occurring in contemporary laboratories, assuming that their accounts of contemporary science are fully capable of replacing the philosophical ones.