Theoretical Roundabouts and Analytical Level Crossings

Special Report: Political Sociology of the Sciences
Is an Encounter between Political Sociology and the Sociology of Science Possible?
By Yann Bérard, Antoine Roger

In its early stages, the sociology of science was concerned with the place of scholarly knowledge in power relationships, mechanisms of political legitimation, and dynamics of institutionalization. In other words, it maintained close contacts with political sociology. Then, the development of science and technology studies loosened these contacts and gave priority to broader thoughts about the interplay between knowledge and power—in tune with political theory. The papers gathered in the thematic issue that we present here provide the means to reopen a dialogue and to rediscover the path of a political sociology of science. In order to move in this direction, it seems that some theoretical frameworks should be swept aside inasmuch as they preclude any encounter between the sociology of science and political sociology. One should rather focus on analytical crossings. Emphasis should be laid on the autonomy of scientific activity in the face of political authorities—in other words, on the political orientation of science and technology and on scholars’ ability to direct policies. One should also encourage research about the status of scientific expertise and its evolutions, especially as a result of mechanisms designed to involve lay people in political decision making.

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