The Necessity of Field Methods in the Study of Scientific Research

  • Robert S. Anderson
Part of the Sociology of the Sciences a Yearbook book series (SOSC, volume 5)


Field methods involving prolonged presence in research institutions are still not as common in social studies of science and technology as they should be. Though they have limitations, and are time-consuming, they offer the ideal means through which to become immersed in one’s subject and to see the dynamic relationship of variables or issues which are often studied separately on the outside. Drawing on my work in a number of research institutions, I emphasize here why we cannot afford to neglect the potential of these methods, while acknowledging the debate in anthropology surrounding their limitations. The stress here is on the sequence of questions to be asked about the relationship of internal and external influences within the research institution. These questions locate the research institution as the mediator between “the scientific tradition” and individual researchers’ contributions to it, and national policies and socio-cultural systems. In concert with other kinds of study, we will thus be in a position to discuss the variations in the evolution of science and technology under different social and cultural conditions. The objective is not simply to understand one level or another (tradition or policy) but to understand the process of the interaction of levels. Starting with the point of view of members of research institutions themselves, the focus is on the relation of these levels and the way in which the community in the research institution mediates this process.


Field Work Social Study Field Method External Influence International Rice Research Institute 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert S. Anderson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of CommunicationSimon Fraser UniversityCanada

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