Karl Mannheim and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge: Toward a New Agenda **
Sociological Theory,14 (1)
March 1996, 30-48.
In previous decades, a regrettable divorce has arisen between two currents of theorizing and research about knowledge and science: the Mannheimian and Wittgensteinian traditions. The radical impulse of the new social studies of science in the early 1970s was initiated not by followers of
Signalling a regrettable fact and advancing an
appropriate remedy are intellectual operations that presuppose and codetermine
one another in a circular manner. The
unfortunate fact concerns the relative divorce and mutual indifference between
two contemporary currents of theorizing and research about knowledge and
science, which I call the “Mannheimian” and the “Wittgensteinian” traditions.
I use these appelations in somewhat
ambiguous homage to David Bloor, who, in one of the first statements in print
of the Edinburgh Strong Programme, compared the two thinkers with regard to
the strategic possibility of a sociological explanation of logic, mathematics,
and natural science (Bloor 1973). The
Mannheimian program for the sociology of knowledge was considered “weak”
precisely for its refusal to explain cultural and natural science
symmetrically, and hence to extend causal sociological analysis to the “hard
case” of the natural sciences; and for its coincident failure to demand an
equally radical symmetry between the sociological explanation of true and
false beliefs, thus confining the sociology of knowledge to a mere “sociology
of error.” In both respects,
Wittgenstein was celebrated as offering a more attractive starting point:
Accordingly, the spurt of intellectual initiative that awoke the slumbering sociology of knowledge to the radical impulse of the new social studies of science in the early 1970s was not initiated by Mannheimians, but largely developed without
** Amsterdam School for Social
Science Research, University of Amsterdam, Oude Hoogstraat 24, 1012 CE
Amsterdam, The Netherlands; e-mail: email@example.com.
Previous versions were read at the
Congres du centenaire of the Institut International de Sociologie, June 1993,
at the Sorbonne, Paris, and at the XIIIth World Congress of Sociology, July
1. Cf. Bloor’s similar approach to the rift between Wittgenstein and Durkheim. While Durkheim still opted to except Western scientific culture from the social explanations he applied to primitive systems of classification, Wittgenstein did not “lose his nerve or betray himself in this way” (Bloor 1983:3).
Gouldner, Coser, Shils, and Wolff, their efforts
did not provoke a distinctly Mannheimian research tradition in the 1980s -
with the significant exception of the grand editorial project carried through
by Kettler, Meja, and Stehr (cf. Goldman 1994; Kettler and Meja 1994).
For various reasons, interesting in
themselves, contemporary social theorists such as Elias, Bourdieu, Foucault,
Habermas, and Giddens have found only limited use for
The real action and excitement in the sociology of knowledge, on the other hand, was not generated by mainstream sociology but emerged from the new philosophy and historiography of (natural) science. The seminal work of Kuhn, insofar as philosophical sources entered into it, took its inspiration not from the sociology of knowledge tradition but from Wittgenstein and Heck, and initially concentrated not on “soft” sociological, political, or historical thought but on the “harder” sciences of nature and medicine.  Bloor and Barnes, the progenitors of the Strong Programme, as well as Collins, Mulkay, and Lynch, followed a Wittgensteinian rather than a Mannheimian track, as did constructivists such as Knorr-Cetina, Woolgar, and Latour.  Evidently, Bloor’s reproach about Mannheim’s “failure of nerve” concerning a symmetrical treatment of true knowledge and natural science was considered sufficiently damaging to turn his sociological project into a dead horse. Henceforth,
Let me at once enter some specifications that qualify my claim about a Wittgensteinian turn in science studies, to avoid the risk of forcefully homogenizing what are in fact quite diverse streams of theorizing and research (cf. Callebaut 1993). These provisos will simultaneously elaborate significant reservations about Bloor’s opposition of a “strong” Wittgensteinian to a “weak” Mannheimian program in the social theory of knowledge; in fact, the legacies of both
2. Barnes (1982:9, 34, 65) cites Fleck, Piaget, and the later Wittgenstein as Kuhn’s primary extrahistorical intellectual sources. Bloor (1983) likewise suggests strong parallels between Kuhnian naturalism and Wittgenstein’s allegedly naturalistic “social theory of knowledge.”
3. E.g. Collins 1985:12ff., 24n, 152n; 1986:3, 8n; 1990:17, 20-21, 225n; Woolgar 1988:45-50. The pivotal significance of Wittgenstein is also exemplified by the recent exchange between Lynch and Bloor, shortly to be discussed, in the course of which the former has opposed an ethnomethodological and antiepistemological reading of Wittgenstein to the latter’s naturalistic interpretation (Bloor 1992; Lynch 1992a, l992b, 1993). The lines of disagreement are anticipated in Lynch’s earlier objections against Phillips’s (1977) “appropriation” of Wittgenstein’s philosophy for a rather Bloorian sociology of science (Lynch 1985:179ff.). A parallel critical effort is found in De Vries (1992), who counters the “neo-Kantian” and “epistemological” Wittgenstein canvassed by Bloor and Collins with a more radical “anthropological” Wittgenstein, more congenial to Latourian actor-network theory. Lynch (1993) provides a rich account of the development of “strong” Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK) and its many sibling rivalries.
4. The width and depth of the divorce of the
traditions can also be fathomed by looking at the institutional and
professional distribution of research interests and research personnel.
The ISA Research Committee on the
History of Sociology and the ASA Theory Section, which include a number of
“regular” social theorists and Mannheim scholars, have so far hardly concerned
themselves with the new social studies of science and technology, which are
pursued in rivalling institutional forums such as the Society for the Social
Study of Science (4S) and the European Association for the Study of Science
and Technology (EASST). Established
sociology journals, including relatively new and adventurous ones such as
Theory and Society or Theory, Culture, and Society, hardly ever
print contributions to science and technology studies, which tend to appear in
Social Studies of Science, Philosophy of the Social Sciences or
Science, Technology, and Human Values. In
(Lynch 1993:42ff.; Kim 1994:391); whereas his
recruitment of Wittgenstein in support of such a strengthened naturalistic
sociology has equally come under severe attack (cf. Sharrock and Anderson
1984; Hacking 1984; Coulter 1989; Lynch 1992a, 1993).
If neither entity,
Before sketching a summary programmatic outline for such a relative synthesis between the two traditions, I will first attempt to identify the relative coherence of the Wittgensteinian project and locate its present impasse. I take it to indicate a basic style of thinking and research that may be succinctly characterized as “value-free relativism” (cf. Pels 1991). This project integrates a strong antiepistemological and antinormativistic temper with a radically contextualist and descriptivist methodology. Suspicious of all philosophical generalization and normative “legislation,” it advocates the close descriptive analysis (ethnography) of concrete examples of everyday and scientific language use and practices (case studies method). It conceives language as (speech) action, challenging traditional views that emphasize reference, correspondence, and mimetic representation. It thus stresses the performative nature of language-in-use: Words are also deeds. The meaning of words resides in their practical usage, and remains limited to the “language games” or “forms of
life” in which they are put to practical use (cf. Pitkin 1972:39, 289; Phillips 1977:27-30). The relativity of scientific truth claims is thus only a particular case of a more widespread skepticism concerning the rule-bound character of practical activity. Truth, reason, and logic, far from compelling particular courses of action, form post hoc rationalizations for orderly practices and shared conventions (Woolgar 1988:46-47, 50; Collins 1985:12ff.; Lynch 1993:71ff., 162ff.).
Wittgensteinian value-free relativism thus strongly insists on the replacement of a normativistic by a naturalistic conception of rationality, according to which discrepancies in belief become “simply a matter of cultural variation, so that all beliefs in all cultures become equivalent for the sociologist” (Barnes 1976:125; Bloor  1991). Naturalism and relativism in the theory of knowledge hence imply symmetry of explanation between truth and error, and impartiality or moral indifference towards nature and society - the two core tenets of the Strong Programme that have been progressively extended and radicalized in subsequent waves of constructivist science studies (cf. Pels 1996). Constructivist naturalism neutralizes the question of legitimacy or illegitimacy of knowledge in favor of ethnographic redescriptions of scientific discourses and practices (cf. Knorr-Cetina 1983) which, in line with Wittgenstein’s own analyses of ordinary language use, nearly “leave everything as it is” (cf. Sharrock and Anderson 1984:377; Collins and Yearley 1992:308-309). Nearly, since the critical edge of such dispassionate investigations (conducted from Wittgenstein’s “Martian point of view”), is not to harvest “denunciations” of erroneous native beliefs or irrational native actions but to “display” the historicity and pragmatic contingency of scientific practices and claims (cf. Latour 1993:43-46).  On this interpretation, the label “value-free relativism” appears sufficiently comprehensive to include the drift from the causalist “politics of explanation” of Bloor (who is more hesitant to follow Wittgenstein on this issue) toward the “politics of description” deployed more recently by Knorr-Cetina, Callon, or Latour; it also encompasses sibling rivalries such as lately conducted between Collins and Latour and between Bloor and Lynch, all of whom operate a more or less radical methodology of disinterested analysis. 
This Wittgensteinian agenda has two major weaknesses, which predictably mirror its major strengths (cf. Fuller 1988; Radder 1992; Fuchs 1992; Lynch 1993). First, its ethnographic descriptivism easily degenerates into a type of empiricism or positivism that conflicts with its own precept of reflexivity, because it ignores the normative and political constitution of its own knowledge claims. While undermining quite a number of entrenched epistemological binaries (cognitive vs. social explanations, science vs. politics, culture vs. nature), value-free relativism remains quagmired in the dualism of facts vs. values, and is unable to deal successfully with the problem of critique (Pels 1990, 1991; Proctor 1991:244ff.; Radder 1992). Second, its predominant interest in the microdynamics of laboratory settings and scientific controversies has prejudiced it in favor of an actor-centered
5. Note how close this Wittgensteinian methodology is to Foucault’s suspicions about ideology critique and his alternative precept to investigate the empirical linkages between truth contents and power effects. Foucault likewise neutralizes the question of legitimacy/illegitimacy, which must be exchanged for the concrete study of the acceptability of knowledge claims in terms of a “reconstruction of their ‘positivity’ - which is simultaneously an uncovering of their fundamental arbitrariness, their contingency, their ‘violence” (e.g., 1994:74-76; cf. Pels l99Sb for a critical perspective). The critical issue is also (nicely but involuntarily) captured by Sharrock and Anderson’s opinion that Wittgenstein’s injunctions “to describe, not explain,” and “to look, not think” were “not a call to create a programme of empirical research, but for us to take notice of things that are staring us in the face” (1984:386). Cf. also n. 23.
6. Cf. Lynch on Woolgar’s and Ashmore’s reflexivism as “perhaps a more consistent application of Bloor’s impartiality postulate than Bloor had in mind,” and as “an extremely strong injunction to act in accordance with the Mertonian norm of ‘disinterestedness’” which in fact takes Mannheim’s “nonevaluative” conception of ideology to its ultimate limit (Lynch 1993:106-107). But neither does Lynch himself abandon the search for a neutral or nonevaluative observation language, in line with the ethnomethodological policy of “indifference,” despite his critique of current SSK empiricism and his advocacy of a “praxeological turn” (115, 141ff., 303).
bias, which has tended to occlude broader macroinstitutional settings that constrain the economic, social, and political conditions of scientific production. Despite the Strong Programme’s lingering macrosociological sensitivity, and despite major recent efforts to reincorporate the larger societal context in the study of local scientific work (Haraway 1991; Knorr-Cetina 1982; Shapin and Schaffer 1985; Cozzens and Gieryn 1990; Fuchs 1992; Latour 1993), constructivist studies after the “ethnographic turn” have preferred the micro-side of the micro-macro dualism as well as the factual side of the fact-value dichotomy. The point is now to “get constructivism out of the lab” (Gieryn 1995:440).
My own gamble is that such programmatic shortcomings may be alleviated by promoting a (partial and guarded) shift towards a more comprehensive and normatively sensitive Mannheimian research agenda. This will require a return from a doubly restricted sociology of science to a more broadly conceived social theory of knowledge or social epistemology (Fuller 1988, 1992, 1993; Harding 1991; Pels 1991; Fuchs 1992; Roth 1994).  It implies a shift from a micro-oriented ethnography of laboratory life and scientific controversies toward a macrosocial theory of knowledge as classically outlined in the works of Marx, Durkheim, Mannheim, and Berger and Luckmann, which reinserts science studies in the more general concerns of cultural studies and social and political theory. Such a comprehensive sociopolitical theory of knowledge and culture (cf. also Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992; Beck 1992; Beck, Giddens, and Lash 1994) extends its scope of analysis more emphatically from academic-scientific beliefs toward nonacademic (ideological, political, journalistic, everyday) ones and their multiform interrelationships. This also marks the recuperation of the problem of ideology and ideology critique (the Mannheimian problem of “ideology and utopia”), which, as I have indicated, has been unjustly cashiered from the roster of “symmetrical” science studies (and from that of postmodern philosophy and antifoundationalist social theory more generally), but which appears to prepare for a major comeback (cf. Simons and Billig 1994; Lynch 1994; Zizek 1994). It also includes an attempt to reconnect the social theory of knowledge to a social theory of intellectuals, experts, and professionals or, more broadly, to a macrotheory of the “knowledge society” and its emerging strata of epistemocrats or cultural capitalists (e.g., Bauman 1987, 1992; Eyerman and Jamison 1991; Stehr 1994).  Last but not least, it includes an attempt to restore the breadth and depth of what Mannheimians (such as Stehr 1981; Stehr and Meja 1982) have called the “magic triangle” of symmetrical interdependency among epistemology, sociology, and ethics, thus counteracting the tendency of an imperialistic sociology (and of postmodernist philosophy in general) to abrogate epistemology and ethics altogether (cf. Radder 1992; Winner 1993; Squires 1993; Bauman 1993).
All this, however, should be undertaken while preserving the crucial epistemological profits gathered by two decades of research and reflection in the radical microstudies of scientific knowledge: their ethnographic precision; their symmetrical inclusion of natural, practical, and technological knowledge as objects of analysis; their antirealist and antiuniversalist approach to issues of representation; their radical reflexivity; and the strong thesis
7. The term social epistemology already occurs in Merton (1973:107, 113, 123), whose register entry of the term retrospectively suggests that it was present since 1941. However, the literal expression appears not to be used before 1972. The term was also employed by social constructionist Gergen (e.g., 1988), before being popularized by Fuller (1988).
8. Stehr’s recent book provides one of the sharpest illustrations to date of the gap between more traditional sociology of knowledge concerns and radical constructivist science studies; the latter are virtually absent from his macrosocial narrative. Bauman’s prolific writings on intellectuals and the state remain likewise uninformed by constructivist studies of science, even though Bauman shares many of their postmodernist concerns. On the other side of the looking-glass, the voluminously authoritative Handbook of Science and Technology Studies (Jasanoff et al. 1995) is astonishingly weak on contributions from the sociological mainstream (except Restivo 1995 and Gieryn 1995). For example, while Bourdieu’s work receives only scant and inadequate discussion (cf. Callon 1995:37-41), neither Mannheim nor Elias are considered worthy of being indexed.
about the essential inseparability of cognitive and social dimensions in knowledge formation, which is also echoed by Foucault’s slogan of pouvoir/savoir (cf. Pels 1995b). Precisely where this synthetic effort will take us is at present difficult to predict.  Nevertheless, the primary task of a social epistemology, as here proposed, would be an attempt to restyle or reinvent some ideas from the classical tradition by reimporting the gains of contextualism, constructivism, and reflexivity, and thus to reapply the critical results of science and technology studies to social and political theory itself (cf. Barnes 1988; Latour 1991, 1993; Law 1991).
I have already noted the curious fact that, since the early 1970s, the mainstream sociological tradition has been as silent about Mannheim as has the alternative tradition inspired by Wittgenstein, Fleck, and Kuhn. Whereas one can still trace conscious lines of descent connecting Mannheim to American sociologists of knowledge such as Merton, Mills, Coser, Shils, Berger, and Gouldner, major contemporary European thinkers such as Elias and Bourdieu, who found themselves much closer to the sources of the sociology of knowledge tradition both geographically and intellectually, have somehow managed to skip over Mannheim and reinvent many of his crucial insights without due awareness or acknowledgment. Norbert Elias’s sociogenetic and processual theory of knowledge, despite his sometimes condescending tone about the work of his former principal, is substantively informed by unacknowledged terminological and substantive borrowings from Mannheim’s early work (cf., e.g., Mannheim  1982; for different views cf. Mennell 1989; Kilminster 1993). Pierre Bourdieu’s investigation of intellectual, scientific, and cultural fields, which until recently has developed in remarkable isolation from both German and Anglo-Saxon sociological lineages, is likewise marked by a virtual absence of references to Mannheim’s work, although core ideas of his field theory of science are clearly prefigured there. The celebrated 1928 lecture on cultural competition, which Elias at the time still enthusiastically hailed as a “spiritual revolution” but subsequently ignored,  also anticipates the basic lineaments of Bourdieu’s quasi-economic model of science, including its perhaps central idea of a selection (Auslese) of “truth” as a product of the criss-crossing censure induced by interested intellectual competition (Bourdieu  1981; Mannheim 1952:196-97; in Meja and Stehr 1982:326). 
This abridgment of historical consciousness may also explain why Karin Knorr-Cetina’s early work (1977, 1981), while sympathetically building upon and engaging with Bourdieu’s quasi-economic theory of scientific competition, largely credits Bourdieu with a model that can already be found in outline in Mannheim. A similar substitution is evident in some early “economistic” articles by Latour (e.g., Latour and Fabbri 1977; Latour 1994) and in Latour and Woolgar’s benchmark study Laboratory Life (1979).  Knorr-Cetina’s subsequent, more critical discussion of the economic model of science repeatedly identifies
9. For example, it raises the difficult issue of the conditions of possibility of an antirealist and antifoundationalist ideology critique (cf. recent efforts by Simons and Billig 1994; Lynch 1994; Zilek 1994).
10. Elias’s criticism of
11. And including its problems: cf. the residual universalism of Bourdieu’s notion of rational progress and his residual holism (cf. Mannheim  1982:170; Pels l995a).
12. More accurately, these studies, like Bourdieu’s exemplary 1975 work, mix the economic metaphor of credit and the political metaphor of authority rather liberally, while privileging somewhat the former vocabulary. Cf. also Latour (1994), which was first published in 1984 but apparently written much earlier (cf. Knorr-Cetina 1982:127).
Merton as one of its initiators, while once
again failing to mention the obvious ancestorship of
In the cognitive domain as in others, there is competition among groups or collectivities to capture what Heidegger called the “public interpretation of reality.” With varying degrees of intent, groups in conflict want to make their interpretation the prevailing one of how things were and are and will be.
Since it was Merton, Bourdieu continues, who
established that science must be analyzed sociologically through and through,
the Strong Programme did little else but crash through a wide-open door
(1990:297-98). This Mertonian piece of
wisdom, however, is a paraphrase of a crucial passage in
While the longitudinal relationship between
In his turn, Latour has increasingly toned down his early enthusiasm for Bourdieu’s field theory of science, while the latter now evidently feels that his ideas have been plagiarized. Since their early work, which is still heavily imprinted by the quasi-economic model, both Knorr-Cetina and Latour have veered increasingly toward a quasi-political or power model of science, and have grown increasingly critical of the Bourdieuan metaphors of credit, profit, and cultural capital (e.g., Latour 1986). In addition, Latour has summarily incorporated Bourdieu in his sweeping critique of the “poverty of sociology,” which allegedly remains stuck in the Kantian divorce between culture and nature, and is unable to account for the quasi-objects and the new hybrid powers which are created in laboratories (1993:5-6, 51, 54). Bourdieu is thus offered as a typical victim of what Latour calls the “Modern
13 Merton’s familiarity with
14 “The ultraradicalism of a sacrilegious denunciation of the sacred character of science, which tends to cast discredit on all attempts to establish - even sociologically - the universal validity of scientific reason, naturally leads to a sort of nihilistic subjectivism. Thus the cause of radicalization which inspires Steve Woolgar and Bruno Latour drives them to push to the limit or, better, to extremes, the kinds of analysis, such as the ones that I proposed more than ten years ago, which endeavour to transcend the (false) antinomy of relativism and absolutism…” (Bourdieu 1990:299).
Constitution,” which continues to separate the representation of facts in nature from that of citizens in social world, while the “networks,” the “hybrids,” the “quasi-objects” are presently proliferating so massively as to undermine this divorce from all sides (1993:5). Knorr-Cetina, for her part, somewhat downplays this critique of Bourdieu’s “forgetfulness of the object,” but still ends up by pontifically agreeing with Latour that Bourdieu’s sociology of science “is orthogonal to, and beside the point of, the most interesting developments in recent sociology of science” (Callebaut 1993:473-74).
Even so, it is not Bourdieu or Latour but
I will elaborate another example a little
further, since it so deftly illustrates the lack of interaction between the
two traditions that was already manifest in the 1960s.
It concerns the concept of “style of
thought” which social students of science routinely ascribe to Ludwik Fleck’s
1935 constructivist classic Entstehung und Entwicklung einer
wissenschaftlichen Tatsache, but which is found as early as 1921 in
15. And even further back to a 1901 work by Alois
16 Fleck appears to quarry his knowledge about
sociology primarily from
While Fleck’s version of the concept arises in
the context of analyzing the construction of medical and natural-scientific
As already noted, the first statements of the
Edinburgh Strong Programme still include various critical discussions of
17. Cf. Bourdieu’s repeated (e.g., 1990, 1993) warnings against “short-circuit” explanations, which fail to notice the inevitable “refraction” of external social interests by the laws of the intellectual field. This accusation is also, and mistakenly, levelled at the Strong Programme and its radical offshoots (1990:298).
18. In terms of the “Epistemological Chicken”
dispute about the radicalization of the symmetry principle, as conducted
between Collins and Yearley and Callon and Latour (cf. Picketing 1992:30lff.;
and the natural sciences from a comprehensively
social and contextual analysis. In
1973, to be sure, Bloor still generously admits that
Now there is no question of refuting this type of critique or of showing its lack of textual foundation. The methodological demarcation between cultural or human studies and natural science is a well-documented position in
However, the attempt to bring this demarcation
under the psychologically debunking category of a “failure of nerve” appears
to miss and to misrepresent
In consequence, the knowledge-political motive that underlies
19. Barnes locates a singular tension in
20. Cf. Bloor ( 1991:164) who considers the social-institutional character of our best scientific achievements “not a defect but part of their perfection.”
failure of nerve, but courageously attempted to break the spell of dominant epistemological conceptions of truth and rationality, marching against the same “static philosophy of Reason” which subsequently constituted the point of attack of the more radical Wittgensteinians.
There are some additional ironies at hand. As suggested before, Bloor’s symmetrical extension of causal sociological method toward logic, mathematics, and natural science operates a form of sociological naturalism that imitates features of the same objectivistic scientism from which
In view of such misrepresentations and difficulties, it must not be reckoned a failure and weakness of
21. In addition, there are intimations scattered
22. This distinction is also increasingly evident in Collins’s work. Cf. his (1991) rejoinder to Scott, Richards, and Martin (1990).
heimian asymmetry was as strong as Bloorian symmetry was in the context of the early 1970s, and there is a tinge of contextual unfairness in accusing
I commenced my argument by drawing attention to the intellectual rift between a Mannheimian and a Wittgensteinian tradition in the study of knowledge and science, and pleaded a partial return to Mannheimian macrosociological, epistemological, and normative concerns in order to help resolve some internal Wittgensteinian difficulties. This synthetic move toward a social epistemology, as it has been provisionally called, is expected to repair what some commentators deplore as the “unsplendid isolation” of radical science studies, which, it is said, have lost touch with the main body of sociological work and have so far failed to produce a truly general theory of knowledge and science (e.g., Fuchs 1992). But this move also bridges the divide from the opposite side, realigning some major recent macrosociologies of knowledge, such as those of Elias and Bourdieu, more closely with the core concerns and insights of micro-oriented constructivist science studies. In this manner, the revitalization of social and political theory, which has been rather unilaterally proclaimed by actor-network theorists such as Latour (1991) and Woolgar (1994), may be reciprocated through a sociological and political broadening of the research agenda of science studies themselves.
Let me conclude the present review by specifying
some of the themes of a social epistemology that is able to renegotiate some
of the (in)differences between the two traditions.
However paradoxically, the heritage of
polemically to reject (cf. Darmon 1986). In this sense, we may generalize Kettler, Meja, and Stehr’s observation that Mannheim’s “special, productively unresolved” position (in their case, between Hegelian Marxism and Weberian sociology) makes his work “a timely, heuristically valuable starting point for fresh study” (1990:1470).
The following remarks do not focus upon the larger “social” in social epistemology - i.e., upon sociological macroprocesses of intellectualization, scientization, or professionalization (where a Mannheimian program builds upon acknowledged strengths) - so much as retrieve and clarify a few points of “socialized” epistemology itself. Fundamental to the project of a social epistemology, first of all, is a spirited resistance against the “eliminativist” tendency present in naturalistic science studies which, as we have seen, regularly dismiss normative epistemology in favor of a rigorously empirical study of “what actually happens” in science.
Another closely related indecision on
25. Lynch (1992:215n) suggests a workable distinction between foundationalist epistemology, the traditional bête noire of symmetrical and agnostic sociology, and a “small e” epistemology that is compatible with constructivist empirical interests. If extended in a Mannheimian direction, a defence of small e epistemology would undercut or at least loosen up the original Bloorian postulate about the symmetrical causal treatment of truth and error, possibly in the direction of a weaker postulate of asymmetry (cf. Pels 1996). Hence, and presumably different from Lynch, my small e epistemology would also be compatible with a “minimal” normativity, following upon its recognition of a “natural proximity” between facts and values.
mixed in some of the most central passages of
Anticipating Bourdieu’s antieconomistic economy of practices,
This antireductionist impulse also helps specify
Mannheim’s intriguing intermediate stance in the familiar contest between
“partisanship” and “value-freedom” - one which is doubly defensive against the
Marxian danger of direct politicization and propagandistic thought and against
the Weberian danger of uncommitted, disengaged intellectualism.
Since I take this issue of facts vs. values, or normativism vs. naturalism, as strategically crucial for a social epistemology as here proposed, I will conclude my argument by detailing it a little more closely. I have already pointed out that SSK’s scramble to consign various
inherited philosophical dichotomies to the
intellectual scrap heap has so far piously halted before the deconstruction of
this particular dualism. 
Lynch has argued that SSK’s core postulates of symmetry and impartiality were actually less an attack on
Lynch’s own reflexive praxeology, for all its legitimate objections to Bloorian SSK and its “scientization” of the later Wittgenstein, continues to share much of this positivistic prejudice by refusing to entertain a normative epistemology of whatever kind (cf. Lynch and Fuhrman 1991; Lynch 1992c; Lynch and Fuhrman 1992). Indeed, insofar as ontological concerns have presently begun to inform more radical versions of SSK, such as actor-network theory, they do not implicate articulated normative commitments; the constitutive postulates of symmetry and agnosticism (“following the actants”) continue strongly to work against this. De Vries’s construction of an anti-Kantian and ontological (more precisely, Latourian) Wittgenstein, for example, keeps distant from normative concerns, recommending that we merely “expose” the way in which forms of life “actually work” as heterogeneous ensembles of words, actions, and things (1992: 30-31). From a different viewpoint and tradition, Hekman, who makes such a laudable effort to rescue
27. Remarkably, Social Studies of Science editor David Edge, in his introduction to the mentioned Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, predicts a double move toward a more explicitly normative perspective and toward broader social-philosophical concerns in the studies of science. The “essential inseparability of facts and values,” he suggests, must be confronted directly in STS research, and “is likely to be a very fruitful focus of STS debate for the foreseeable future” (Edge 1995:16-18).
such an antifoundationalist and hermeneutical ontology integrates a value perspective (Hekman 1986).
It cannot be my purpose here to speculate about the general relationship between epistemology and ontology, even though a social epistemology would presumably refuse a strict separation between the two concerns, as it has before refused the forced choice between normative epistemology and empirical sociology. In this respect it would remain opposed to SSK’s epistemological “indifference,” including the various praxeological, ontological, or anthropological radicalizations of its central postulates of symmetry and impartiality. Indeed, it would prefer to consider the contest between sociological explanation and ontological description as a fraternal rivalry among fellow Wittgensteinians, and as less significant than the broader contest between naturalism (causalist and descriptivist) and normativism. In this range of dispute - and perhaps also going beyond what Mannheim himself had in mind - it would tend to explore the possibility of an intentional confusion of facts and values, as so stringently forbidden by Barnes, Bloor, and many other proponents of value-free relativism inside and outside of SSK. Following
It is this
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