The Establishment and Structure of the Sciences as Reputational Organizations

  • Richard Whitley
Part of the Sociology of the Sciences a Yearbook book series (SOSC, volume 6)


Much work in the sociology of science has focussed on the identification and development of scientific communities in the contemporary sciences in an attempt to identify the social processes leading to the emergence of new specialisms or disciplines (1). These units of scientific organization are often seen as crucial to the development of scientific knowledge because they combine the production and the evaluation of knowledge claims and so control the direction of research. Insofar as they are the exclusive units of knowledge production and evaluation, scientific communities constitute the sciences; what they, and only they, produce and certify is scientific knowledge. In this view, the sciences are a set of loosely connected and largely autonomous groups of producers and consumers of knowledge which form distinct “communities” around particular knowledge goals, control research facilities which are widely available to certified practitioners, decide their own priorities and procedures in relative isolation and are more or less equivalent in terms of the prestige of their aims and achievements. Once established, such groups follow similar patterns of knowledge development, as in the Starnberg group’s model for example (2), so that scientific change tends to be located at the stage when new scientific communities emerge and form distinct identities. Given these assumptions, it seems reasonable to concentrate on the social processes by which new communities develop if we are to understand changes in scientific knowledge.


Knowledge Production Scientific Field Work Organization Technical Procedure Reputational System 
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Notes and References

  1. G. Böhme, W. van den Daele and W. Krohn, ‘Finalization in Science’, Social Science Information 15 (1976) 301–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. R. Hohlfeld, ‘Theory Development in Molecular Biology’, in W. Callebaut etal. (eds.), Theory of Knowledge and Science Policy, Ghent: Communication and Cognition, 1979.Google Scholar
  3. J. B. Morrell, ‘The Chemist Breeders: The research schools of Liebig and Thomas Thomson’ Ambix 19 (1972) 1–46.Google Scholar
  4. See, among others, M. Berman,‘ “Hegemony” and the Amateur Tradition in British Science’, Journal of Social History 8 (1975) 30–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. R. Porter, ‘Gentlemen and Geology: the Emergence of a Scientific Career, 1660–1920’, The Historical Journal 21 (1978) 809–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Whitley
    • 1
  1. 1.Manchester Business SchoolUniversity of ManchesterUK

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