Publication 2743

Nowotny H. (1990) Actor-networks vs. science as a self-organizing system: A comparative view of two constructivist approaches. In: Krohn W., Küppers G. & Nowotny H. (eds.) Selforganization. Portrait of a scientific revolution. Kluwer, Dordrecht: 223–239. Fulltext at
Excerpt: It is not the purpose of this contribution to assess the epistemological monoor interdisciplinary implications that reconceptualizations revolving around theories of self-organization may bring with them, nor to pursue the question under what social and cognitive conditions concepts gain acceptability in fields that are otherwise literally “worlds apart.” Other contributions in this volume provide at least partial answers. Rather, I want to address a theory of self-organization of science, such as it has been proposed by Krohn and Küppers in this volume, in the context of historical developments as well as in a contemporary, comparative perspective: (i) where does such a theory stand with regard to the oppositionary dualism that has characterized the sociology of knowledge, separating “social constructions” from “scientific facts,” but also “the social” from “nature” or “objects” (things, technological artifacts) and (ii) compare it with another constructivist approach whose foremost and outspoken proponent is Bruno Latour. My thesis is that much of sociology of science and also of sociology of knowledge is heir to a general predicament of social science when it comes to conceptualizing and accessing the world of “nature” and its objects as well as those of the material world, notably in the form of technology, and that social constructivism has to be seen as a rather limited case of constructivism. While a theory of science based upon principles of self-organization does not entirely escape the traps of previous theories of science, notably either wanting to be a meta-theory or of being based upon a notion of science modelled after the leading discipline of the day, it offers a wider range for including other empirical as well as theoretical accounts, with some interesting points of convergence with alternative approaches.

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