States, Institutions, and Discourses: A Comparative Perspective on the Structuration of the Social Sciences

  • Peter Wagner
  • Björn Wittrock
Part of the Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook book series (SOSC, volume 15)


One of the characteristics of modern science is its organized form in separate knowledge-producing institutions. These institutions, their internal structure and their relations to society at large, cannot be taken for granted in a sociology of the sciences but are one of its key problematiques. Even if the day-to-day activities of scientists at work were hardly distinguishable from other social activities — a claim some scholars have raised based on ethnomethodological and interactionist research — still the location of these activities in particular institutions makes for sociologically relevant differences. Thus scientists distinguish themselves and their work not least by way of their institutional position. Their claims to social relevance are based on this position. They refer socially and intellectually crucially, though of course not exclusively, to actors in similar institutions (1). The very real phenomenon of struggles over admittance of individual scholars, intellectual “approaches,” or specific organizations to the realm of academic institutions could hardly be understood, if institutional difference were of little or no relevance (2). The institutional distinctiveness of science, however, varies over time and space, and across scientific fields. To disregard similarities between science and other social activities and to neglect the impact of societal institutions on science would be equally misleading as the more recent tendency towards denying all distinctiveness to science as a social activity. By implication, science would then tend to be reified, and sociological analysis precluded (3).


Social Science Political Science Academic Institution Neoclassical Economic Interwar Period 
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  1. 1.
    A related position has been strongly argued for by Richard Whitley in debate with proponents of ethnomethodological and interactionist approaches in science studies, “From the Sociology of Scientific Communities to the Study of Scientists’ Negotiations and Beyond”, in: Social Science Information, 22,No. 4/5, 1983, pp. 681–720. He has also tried to develop this viewpoint in analyses of social science fields such as economics, “The Structure and Context of Economics as a Scientific Field”, in: Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, 4,1986, and management studies, “The Development of Management Studies as a Fragmented Adhocracy”, in: Social Science Information, 23,1984, pp. 775–818.Google Scholar
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    A strong emphasis on institutional distinctiveness and its relation to sociocultural differences has been laid by Pierre Bourdieu. For his analyses of institutions of science and higher education see Homo academicus, Paris, Minuit, 1984 and La noblesse d’Etat, Paris, Minuit, 1989.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Wagner
  • Björn Wittrock

There are no affiliations available

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