Gotthard Bechmann, Vitaly Gorokhov, Nico Stehr (Hrsg.)

The Social Integration of Science.
Institutional and Epistemological Aspects of the Transformation of Knowledge in Modern Society.

Berlin: edition sigma 2009, Reihe: Gesellschaft – Technik – Umwelt, Neue Folge 12, ISBN 978-3-89404-942-3, 311 S., engl. Broschur, Euro 24.90


großes Bild

Present-day society may be described as a knowledge society because of the penetration of all its spheres by scientific and technical knowledge. Past social theorists also provided descriptions that combined the attributes of social relations they regarded as constitutive of the specific nature of their particular society. So they spoke of "capitalist" or "industrial" society. It is for quite similar reasons that we label the now emerging form of society as a "knowledge" society, since it is increasingly clear that knowledge is the constitutive identity-defining mechanism of modern society and the (re)source of its economic activities.

The historical emergence of "knowledge societies" is not a sudden event; it is not a revolutionary development, but rather a gradual process during which the defining characteristics of society change and new traits emerge. Even today, the demise of societies is typically as gradual as was their beginning, even if some social transformations do occur in spectacular leaps. But most major social changes continue to evolve gradually, at an uneven pace, and they become clearly visible only after the transition is already over. The proximity of our time to significant social, economic and cultural changes, however, makes it highly likely that what is now beginning to come into view is of extraordinary present and future significance.

The articles in this volume were presented at a conference which took place in Moscow in October 2006. It was the first of two German-Russian colloquies with the title "Chances in scientific production in the knowledge society" founded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Russian Foundation of Humanistic Studies (RGNF). The other conference was held in Karlsruhe in May 2007. We would like to thank the DFG and the RGNF. Without their support, these colloquies would not have been possible.

With the exception of the contributions by Jacqueline Luce and Thomas Brante, all articles are direct results of the first meeting of German and Russian colleagues.

1   Knowledge and information society

The starting point for analysis of the knowledge and information society was the decade of the 1960s (e.g. Drucker 1969; Lane 1966). Especially the programmatic contribution by Daniel Bell led to a re-orientation in our understanding of modern societies. In his "Venture of Social Forecasting" (1973), Bell describes the outlines of a "post-industrial society" in which it is no longer material possession and industrial production that are the "axial principle", but (theoretical) knowledge. Current contributions to this subject refer implicitly or explicitly to Daniel Bell (Webster 1995). At the same time, these theories of modern society are closely linked with observations on the information technology revolution and accompanying forms of diffusion of new information and communication technologies (cf. Stehr 2000). The increasing penetration of all areas of society by modern information technologies thus even leads to a redefinition of the social functions of speed, time and space (Castells 1996).

Despite these sociological interpretations, the analysis of a major transformation of contemporary society is generally dominated by an economic perspective on the information society. Thus the use of new knowledge is regarded first and foremost as a competitive factor for technological innovations, while studies on technology transfer or on so-called national innovation systems examine the resulting institutional arrangements (Freeman/Soete 1997). The focus is therefore more on changes in the production structure and the use of technological innovations. This is less evident within the context of the concept of the knowledge society. According to Helmut Willke, one is able to speak of a knowledge society provided that all functional areas of society depend on knowledge and on the production of new knowledge (Willke 1998).

In recognition of the growing importance of knowledge as the foundation of modern society, social theory considerations centre on the question about the function of knowledge, in particular of science, as a driver of the transformation process. This perspective basically goes back to classics like Max Weber. At the centre of his considerations were the systematisation, rationalisation and "scientification" of economy and bureaucracy. In contrast, Schumpeter (1975) underlined the innovation strength and thus also the creative character of the destruction of modern societies. According to Schumpeter, innovations are produced by exceptional entrepreneur personalities through the foundation of enterprises and creation of new markets. Knowledge is essential for this to happen; scientific knowledge, on the other hand, is an important but not indispensable condition. In the further development of this approach, newer contributions underline the integrated inclusion of scientific research. The basis is, on the one hand, the emergence of research and development departments in economic organisations and, on the other hand, the networking of innovative enterprises with research institutions. Accordingly, the decisive element is the use of distributed knowledge in "post-Schumpeterian networks of innovation" (Rammert 1997). These forms of super-individual use of scientific knowledge for practical purposes are also emphasised within the framework of the investigation of successful innovation locations, so-called "milieux of innovation" (Castells 1996).

Newer theories of the knowledge society assume that knowledge represents social action potential (Stehr 2003: 31 ff). It not only makes new connections accessible in nature and society, but at the same time it produces and constructs new social realities and options for action. Other authors stress that - basically - all orientations, norms and values for action which were formerly unquestionably passed on become accessible to reflection (Giddens 1995). At the same time the knowledge base involves risk, because the foundations are insecure and enable risky applications by the feasibility of recombining new knowledge (Beck 1986). Information and knowledge societies are thus highly susceptible to risk.

Work on the knowledge and information society is important because it clarifies that changes in science must be analysed against the background of social change and novel functions of science in society. At the same time it shows a weakness with respect to the research topic, in that it does not consider the accompanying changes in science. Theories of modern societies as knowledge societies or information societies assume a stable and context-indifferent social system of science. Consequently, only limited feedback patterns from the changing societal conditions for science are examined. Nonetheless, it is important to also consider studies and interpretations on changes within science for society.

2   Changing knowledge production in science

The current debate on change processes of the science system in the sociology of science is characterised by the controversial thesis of the emergence of a new "mode of scientific production". It is assumed that there is a radical transformation of classical science (called "Mode 1") towards a "Mode 2" (Gibbons et al. 1994; Nowotny et al. 2001). The "Mode 2" thesis refers to the observation that science is increasingly exposed to pressure by public, economic and political expectations: Scientific knowledge production is supposed to provide new economic and social options - with as little risk as possible. Changing societal expectations provide the general conditions for initiating substantial changes in the self-conception and predominant structures of science. Science accordingly is not only primarily directed towards the provision of general knowledge for society, but is expected to contribute to the solution of social problems through the production of new knowledge.

The stronger integration in and linkage to socioeconomic and socio-political contexts and the demand for practical relevance are, accordingly, an expression of the changed social function of science and simultaneously a starting point for scientific reflection on its relation to society. Special attention is devoted to the role of science in the regulation processes (Jasanoff 1990) as well as to attempts at the immediate economic use of scientific knowledge, which not least implies the strengthening of property rights and other forms of commodification (Gibbons/Wittrock 1985; Etzkovitz et al. 1998).

Changes in science also reveal themselves in the creation of new state and private research organisations and in new forms of knowledge use (e.g. in the form of immediate decision relations and attention in the mass media). In addition, new patterns of the institutional integration of science into society are to be observed in the shape of hybrid organisations or loose networks of cooperation. This development has been described and interpreted in its various forms. Some authors see the beginning of a "post-normal science" (Funtowicz/Ravetz 1993), others identify a "triple helix" of university, industry and state research as a future model of science (Etzkovitz/Leydesdorff 1997). The central contention of the cited authors is the societal contextualisation of science production. Knowledge, and in particular scientific knowledge, is produced according to social norms that no longer exclusively belong to the science system with its unique norms of communalism, universalism, disinterestedness and organised scepticism as stipulated by Merton (1985). Correspondingly, a transformation of the normative foundation of scientific research is postulated (Etzkovitz 1989).

If one follows the new context argument, it is not the context of discovery and justification within the scientific community but the context of use that becomes decisive for knowledge production processes. The science-theoretical provocation of this thesis results from the abandonment of a strict distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification, because the context of justification has also shifted to success and quality criteria. Knowledge development and application can accordingly no longer be solely controlled by means of science-internal standards and procedures (peer review). Last but not least, the development refers to the possible democratisation and participation of laymen, such as consumer groups, and to the inclusion of decision-makers from politics and industry in science policy decision processes (for example, on research budgets or on research priorities and user-driven innovation agendas, cf. von Hippel 2005).

Different objections have been raised against this strongly typological perspective. On the one hand, it is not plausible to fundamentally distinguish between n two types of knowledge production, since transitions, hybrid forms and other interlocks exist within different regimes of knowledge generation. On the other hand, depending on the societal context, prevailing circumstances may differ at the national level and not all fields of science are equally affected by the same conditions. In addition, the history of science cannot be represented as a sequence of only two forms of knowledge production. Thus, elements of "Mode 2" knowledge production were already in evidence at the beginning of the last century.

But the need to make stronger reference to contemporary changes in science is of particular importance. Otherwise, new scientific research fields, novel forms of social ownership of knowledge as well as the significance of changing internal institutional and epistemic structural characteristics are lost from view. An inclusion of these structural characteristics is vital to assess the specific consequences of changing contextual conditions and expectations in the individual field of scientific activity.

One of the major changes in societal conditions affecting the modern scientific community is the emergence of a new field of political activity, namely knowledge politics.

3   Knowledge politics

Anxieties and concerns about the adverse social consequences of new scientific knowledge and novel technologies are not of recent origin. The same goes for elusive promises of the blessings of science for humankind and the mitigation of human suffering that scientific advance entail. Indeed, few individuals are ready to reject the most common rationale for spending not only public monies on scientific projects, large and small. The widely shared rationale was and is that scientific projects have the potential to transform our lives into healthier, longer, wealthier, safer, and generally more pleasant lives. In a word, the advancement of knowledge functions to improve the human condition.

But a persuasive case can be made that we have reached a new, modern stage in our understanding of the social role of new knowledge.

Concerns about the societal consequences of an unfettered expansion of (natural) scientific knowledge are being raised more urgently and are becoming the focus of disputes in society - thus moving to the top of the political agenda. In the preamble to the charter of fundamental rights in the draft of the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, adopted by consensus by the European Convention in the summer of 2003, we find the following statement that can be interpreted as affirmation of the need by the European Union to engage in knowledge politics but also as an expression of anxieties about the impact of science and technology on individuals and society:

Governments will have to engage in new political activity and will be held accountable to new standards. But the state clearly will not be the only relevant actor in the context of knowledge politics. And public conflicts, frictions, and disputes over the implementation of knowledge, which are seen by at least some as attacks on science and the deliberate creation of excessive fear among the public, will no longer take place mainly a posteriori.

For it is no longer uncommon that the discussion of the role of new scientific knowledge in modern societies leads to demands that such knowledge and its impact be managed in some way, regulated, or even suppressed. The question has now become pertinent (and these concerns are no longer prompted merely by the possible consequences of nuclear science and technology): "How can we avoid being devoured by a marvellously powerful science?" It would be too easy to dismiss calls for intervention as an irrational or anti-modern response. The concerned questions being raised and the resistance being mobilised refer back, of course, to the image that we have of ourselves, according to which we are arranging our life - an image that appears to be under threat.

In short, efforts to regulate and otherwise control the use of new knowledge will be at the heart of the emerging field of knowledge politics. Without question, such activities in turn will have a significant impact on the scientific community, for example, in the sense of changing public expectations, research policies and funding regimes.

4   Decision-oriented science

The relationship between society and science is changing. The cognition-oriented and explanatory self-understanding of science as a centre of academic contemplation far removed from actual practice, of the art of experimentation and of theory formation, as it corresponded to the ideal of classical physics, can be found today only in a few individual fields of science. Other fields, however, are drawn into society's decision-making processes: science as a contribution to processes of deciding and planning, but also to opinion formation, is increasingly in demand and is firmly institutionalised in large-scale research programmes and in new forms of organisation (e.g. the Helmholtz Association). At the same time, there is a re-evaluation of manners of science's functioning and achievement potentials according to which - intentionally or not - even basic research is supposed to be socially relevant, and can be directed at problems of higher social, economic and political significance. In this manner, the importance of science for the economy (innovations), everyday life (consumer goods) and for politics (supplier of topics, problems, and knowledge for decision-making) increases. Science thus increases the capacity for action of the societal areas in that it not only devises explanations, but also models for shaping reality and decision alternatives.

What does this development mean for the internal cognitive and social organisation of science? On the one hand, the role of the results of science and research assumes greater importance, on the other hand, the underlying action pattern is generalised, and thereby the convergence between science and society increases. The societal diffusion and communication of scientific knowledge facilitates active reference to science and improves the chances for translating scientific and political or economic problems into one another. In this sense, one comprehends the differentiation of research institutions in the economy and in politics as an important institutional precondition for structural couplings between science and politics, resp., between science and the economy, and for facilitating the establishment of "trans-scientific" knowledge cultures.

With the rise of a "knowledge-based industry" and the emergence of a state-supported and strategically and pragmatically oriented societal precautionary research, new types of knowledge arise which, on the one hand, in the form of their organisation no longer fit into the classical trinity of basic research, applied research, and commercialisation; on the other hand, they transform scientifically gained empirical knowledge into tested decision-making knowledge.

The emergence of "decision-oriented science" can be seen as the science system's response to new demands made by society on science. Decision-oriented science is characterised by two basic features:

5   Knowledge and information

Many dictionaries simply define information as a certain kind of knowledge. A similar symmetry between information and knowledge is evident if one defines information as "knowledge reduced and converted into messages that can be easily communicated among decision agents" (Dasgupta/David 1994: 493). In other definitions of information and knowledge, information is simply conceptualised as a subspecies, as an element or the raw material of a number of knowledge forms. For example, information is codified knowledge as well as indirect knowledge (see Borgmann 1999: 49), or knowledge is defined as the cumulative stock of information (Burton-Jones 1999: 5). Similarly, knowledge in general is seen to extend to "tacit knowledge" (cf. Polanyi 1967: 204-206) and other categories of knowledge (Dosi 1996: 84).

Starbuck (1992: 716) suggests that knowledge refers to a stock of expertise and not a flow of information. Thus, knowledge relates to information in the way that capital or assets connect to income. Kenneth Boulding (1955: 103-104) warns that we should not regard knowledge as a mere accumulation of information. Knowledge, in contrast to information, has a structure: Sometimes it is a loose network, sometimes a quite complex set of interrelations. Fritz Machlup (1983: 644) refers to the possibility that one may acquire new knowledge without receiving new information. Summing up the distinction between knowledge and information, Machlup prefers to claim that

The act of delivering (information) is one side of the coin, the "object" that is being delivered (knowledge) the other (Machlup 1979: 63-65). In definitions designed to differentiate between information and knowledge, only rarely does one find any reference to practical usefulness or correctness as salient characteristics of knowledge and information.

But the distinction between knowledge and information, even in its most elementary sense, is not only an asymmetrical dichotomy but also a difference that is supposed to have its dynamic, even progressive, elements. For what might be called "knowledge about" becomes "acquaintance with" as knowledge develops, matures or becomes more explicit and articulate. James (1890: 221) indicates as much when he observes that the two kinds of knowledge are "as the human mind practically exerts them, relative terms." As a result, the distinction moves, as later interpretations of James show as well (e.g. Park 1940), closer to the dichotomy of scientific knowledge in the sense of formal, analytical, rational and systematic knowledge, and information.

Let us come back to the question of truth and usefulness of knowledge. We stated above that this simple dichotomy, as employed by Lyotard and others, does not allow for a third perspective, which we sketch here. Knowledge, we propose, constitutes a capacity for action. Knowledge enables actors, in conjunction with control over the contingent circumstances of action, to set something in motion and to structure reality. Knowledge allows actors to generate a product or some other outcome. But knowledge is only a necessary, and not a sufficient, condition for capacity to act. As indicated, in order to set something into motion or generate a product, the circumstances within which such action is contemplated to take place must be subject to the control of the actors. Knowledge that pertains to moving a heavy object from one place to the next is insufficient to accomplish the movement. In order to accomplish the transfer, one needs control over some medium of transportation useful for moving heavy objects, for example. The value that resides in knowledge, however, is linked to its capacity to set something into motion. Yet knowledge always requires some kind of attendant interpretive skills and a command of the situational circumstances. In other words, knowledge - its acquisition (see Carley 1986), dissemination and realisation - requires an active actor. Knowledge involves appropriation rather than mere consumption or "transfer". It demands that something be done within a context that is relevant beyond being the situation within which the activity happens to take place. Knowledge is conduct. Knowing, in other words, is (cognitive) doing.

We should note that there are two metaphors which are widely employed when speaking about knowledge; yet we would warn against using them. The first is knowledge as a more or less immutable object that can be grasped, moved, or transferred. In Marxist terminology, this metaphor reifies knowledge as a dead object. The second misleading metaphor refers to the knowledge creation process which is seen as a relation between the subject (first exploring, then knowing) and an object.[2]  The process of cognition is pictured as a solitary process in which a single mind grasps matter or reality. In line with many contributions to our volume, we propose to see knowledge creation as a process of construction by knowledge agents in terms of social groups or networks rather than a single ego. The still dominant metaphors are appealing, to be sure, in that they refer to everyday experience, with mechanics and visible objects and agents. Knowledge transfer is thus seen as a sequence of single (and, in principle, simple) steps, where first an ego discovers some knowledge about the world, treats this knowledge as an immutable object (e.g. "the law of gravity", "the semiconductor", "genetic fingerprinting", etc.), then transfers it to some other ego, who in turn transfers it to others, and so on. Knowledge as an unchanging object is seen like money in the economy, which is not changed in the process of transfer. Replacing the single ego with the social, and transfer with construction, leads us to a view of knowledge as social construction. We will come back to this in the concluding section of this introduction.

6   Communication and knowledge

Against the background of the concept of communication, one can state more clearly how the concept of information can be determined. More precise definitions of the concept of information often follow the description by Norbert Wiener: "Information is information, not material or energy" (Wiener [1948] 1963: 155).

Information can be distinguished from material and energy, is, however, usually subsequently treated like both. Information can be measured, transported, saved, stored, sold, and bought. Simultaneously, it is also seen that information has a surprise value and that it changes the system in its state, thus in a sense having impact on the cognitive structure of the information processing system.

It is common practice to combine both in the concept of information, surprising selections and the metaphor of transport, even if both might contradict each other. Jürgen Mittelstraß makes a distinction between knowledge and information:

If one comprehends information as a selection of communication contents from a repertoire of possibilities, one may recognise that information is not a stable, transportable, workable entity, but an event which loses its character as information through up-dating.

Thus one must distinguish between information and transferable knowledge. Interest in information is driven by the charm of surprise. It is the difference between that which could be the case and that which has just taken place or has been conveyed. As a difference it has neither dimensions within which it could vary, nor a location in which it could be found. It is an operation within the communication process. One can merely denote the system which is concerned with it. At the same time, it causes changes within the system. It is thus a qualified difference, or as Bateson (1981: 582) states, "Information is a difference which makes a difference."

The gains of certainty which can be achieved through information are thus always linked with surprises and present certainty as contingent[3]. Furthermore, information can only surprise a single time. If it is known, it retains its meaning, but no longer informs, only creating redundancy. Its meaning can be repeated, but not its character as a surprise.

Information is a deeply ambivalent matter. It is at the same time an event and a difference. It is a double-sided concept: it helps as it disturbs. In a sense, it contains its own counterpart. From one minute to the next it continues to reproduce knowledge and non-knowledge. As information it produces continuance opportunities, but on the other side it renews the background knowledge that there are other possibilities. Information must not be correct, just plausible. It must enable the crystallisation of sense and thus permit the continuation of operations and the transfer of the ambivalence of knowing and not knowing to the next situation. To this extent, the information society is chronically uninformed.

7   Knowledge is self-multiplying

Knowledge is a most peculiar entity, with properties generally unlike those of commodities or secrets, for example. A secret known to everyone is a secret no longer. When revealed, knowledge does not lose its influence. Knowledge known to all still performs its function. If sold, knowledge enters other domains and yet remains within the domain of its producer. Knowledge exists in objectified and embodied forms.

Knowledge is a public as well as private good. At times, knowledge may be a positional good. The value of positional goods, as Fred Hirsch (1977) argues, is conditional on others failing to gain access to them. The value of knowledge is tied to its scarcity. As we will discuss as part of this section, the proposition that scarcity of knowledge determines its exchange value already signals that at least some forms of knowledge (not subject to scarcity and depletion) must have properties that move such knowledge (at least in terms of economic reasoning) close to the attributes that public goods typically share.

While it has been understood for some time that the "creation" of knowledge is fraught with uncertainties, the conviction that its application is without risks and that its acquisition reduces uncertainty has only recently been debunked. Unlike money, property rights and symbolic attributes such as titles, knowledge cannot be transmitted more or less instantaneously. Its acquisition does not take place in a vacuum; it takes time and is typically based on intermediary cognitive capacities and skills. But acquisition can be unintended and can occur almost unconsciously. Once knowledge has been "mastered", it is difficult to arrest and return it. As a consequence, the development, mobility and reproduction of knowledge are difficult to regulate. It is "troublesome" to censor and control knowledge. As knowledge is reconstructed in "transfer" processes, new meanings can emerge and thus the nature of knowledge may change.

Knowledge is typically seen as a collective or communal commodity par excellence; for example, the ethos of science demands that it be made available to all in the scientific community as a public good, at least in principle. But is the "same" knowledge available to all? Is scientific knowledge, when transformed into technology, still subject to the same normative conventions? The answer provided by one economist is that technology must be considered a "private capital good". In the case of technology, disclosure is uncommon, and rents for its use can be privately appropriated (cf. Dasgupta 1987: 10). But the potentially unrestricted availability of knowledge to all makes it resistant, in peculiar and unusual ways, to private ownership (Simmel [1907] 1978: 438).

Despite its reputation, knowledge is virtually never uncontested. Unlike the conviction displayed by classical functionalist theory of social differentiation, science is in many instances incapable of offering cognitive certainty. This is to say that scientific discourse has been depragmatised, that it cannot offer definitive or even true statements (in the sense of proven causal chains) for practical purposes, but only more or less plausible and often contested assumptions, scenarios, and probabilities (see Stehr 1994). Instead of being the source of reliable trustworthy knowledge, science becomes a source of uncertainty (Grundmann/Stehr 2000). The uncertainty linked to scientific findings is not an expression of ignorance, or of a (temporary) deficit of knowledge. Uncertainty is a constitutive feature of knowledge. Contrary to what rational scientific theories suggest, this problem cannot be comprehended or remedied by differentiating between "good" and "bad" science (or between pseudo-science and correct, i.e. proper, science).

8   Knowledge as a capacity to act

Knowledge can be conceptualised as a model for reality and as a generalised capacity to act. Knowledge may create and change existential conditions. Defining knowledge as a capacity to act implies silence about its possible practical consequences and suspends judgment about the social role of knowledge. Our definition of the term "knowledge" is first and foremost indebted to Francis Bacon's famous observation that knowledge is power (a somewhat misleading translation of Bacon's Latin phrase: scientia est potentia). Etymologically, power refers to ability, and to "make a difference" would be among the most basic definitions of the concept of "ability". In that sense, and therefore not in the sense in which power is usually deployed in discussions about power in social relations, namely as power exercised to accomplish something or as power over someone, the basic definition of power as ability resonates with the notion of knowledge as capacity.

Knowledge, as a generalised capacity to act, acquires an "active" role in the course of social action only under circumstances where such action does not follow purely stereotypical patterns (Max Weber), or is not strictly regulated in some other fashion. Knowledge assumes significance under conditions where social action is, for whatever reasons, based on a certain degree of freedom in the courses of action that can be chosen. The circumstance of action we have in mind may also be described as the capacity of actors to alter or stabilise a specific reality (Gestaltungsspielraum).

The definition of knowledge as a capacity to act has a number of advantages. For example, it implies that knowledge for action always has multi-faceted implications and consequences. The term capacity for action signals, as we have already hinted that knowledge may be left unused, may be employed for irrational ends or may be unable to be mobilised to change reality. The thesis that knowledge is invariably pushed to its limit in the absence of friction, that it is realised and implemented almost without regard for its consequences (as argued, for instance, by C.P. Snow, cf. Sibley 1973), represents a not uncommon view among observers of the nature of technological development. However, the notion that science and technology inherently and inevitably force their own realisation in practice fails to give proper recognition to the context of implementation by assuming such automaticity in the realisation of technical and scientific knowledge. Any conception of the immediate practical efficacy of scientific and technological knowledge (for example, in the sense "there is nothing as practical as a good theory") overestimates the "built-in" or inherent practicality of knowledge claims fabricated in science. The implementation of knowledge as a capacity for action relies upon existing frameworks of social action.

It would be equally misleading to conclude that the conception of knowledge as a capacity for action and not as some "thing", to use the most traditional contrasting image with which we are acquainted, thereby supports a reversal of the metaphor "knowledge is power" into "power equals knowledge". Indeed, the implementation of knowledge requires more than knowing how to put something into motion. The realisation of capacities for action and that of power, or better, control over some of the circumstances of action, are allies. The relation is not symmetric. Knowledge does not always lead to power. Power does not lead to knowledge and power does not always rely on knowledge.

In the sense of our definition of knowledge, scientific and technical knowledge clearly represent "capacities for action or capacities to intervene". But this does not mean that scientific knowledge should be seen as a resource that is incontestable, is not subject to interpretation, travels without serious impediments, can be reproduced at will and is accessible to all; nor that scientific and technical knowledge primarily convey unique and generally effective capacities for action.

9   The sociology of knowledge and science

The conditions under which knowledge is produced have traditionally been examined by the sociology of knowledge and science. Taking up Marx's slogan that it is "not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines consciousness" (Marx [1859] 1970), Karl Mannheim developed a social theory of knowledge that stressed the social origins of every form of knowledge. As social influences of cognition lead to bias, we are immediately confronted with the problem of false consciousness or ideology. This powerful train of thought, i.e. that social conditions stand in the way of a true reflection of reality, was dominant in the sociology of knowledge until the late 20th century. It is only with the emergence of new approaches in the sociology of scientific knowledge that this tradition has been submitted to scrutiny and eventually eroded.

To be sure, there were many merits to the older approaches, especially as these tried to specify the institutional conditions under which new knowledge and innovations can occur. And one of the allegedly new features of the recent sociology of knowledge, the social constructivist element, goes right back to these older approaches in stressing the social determination of knowledge. So what exactly is new in the new sociology of science? We think that there are two main elements: the first is the inclusion of natural science into the remit of inquiry, the second the symmetrical treatment of knowledge claims. The first is clearly evident in the vast literature that has emerged, beginning with Fleck and Kuhn, via Barnes, Bloor and Mulkay to Latour, Woolgar and Knorr-Cetina. In the older approaches, including Marx and Mannheim, a distinction was made between knowledge and ideology. Here the scientist is in possession of true knowledge, while the others cannot see beyond the ideological maze. It is important to note that the scientist was seen as representing nature, and was thus immune to sociological analysis. Marx attempted to model his version of "true" social science on this exemplar[4] and Mannheim saw the free-floating intelligentsia in a position to gain true knowledge of society. This framework is abandoned by the new sociology of science and replaced with a framework in which different knowledge claims compete for recognition and have to be treated on equal footing by the sociologist. In practical terms this means that we do not privilege one of the knowledge claims as representing the truth (which speaks for itself, as it were) and the others as being marred by social conditions (which "corrupt" or otherwise influence the knowledge, rendering it invalid). This approach, sometimes called the "Empirical Programme of Relativism", has become a widely accepted tool when investigating scientific controversies. In many cases such controversies cannot be decided by a simple appeal to the evidence of empirical data. The underdetermination of scientific theories by empirical data can be traced from Quine through Kuhn to many contemporary philosophers, historians and sociologists of science. Various scholars have pointed out that in cases where "objective" or "scientific" tests are not available to check the quality of experimental data, scientists are making free use of non-scientific criteria, such as trust in the honesty of an experimentator, the size or prestige of a lab, even personal characteristics such as nationality or professional specialisation (Collins 1985; Holton 1992; Shapin 1995).

This harks back to the old philosophical question of whether reality is out there and can be discovered, or whether it is a construction of our senses, instruments, and theories.

10   About this volume

The current discussion on the social role of science is characterised by different and sometimes contradictory practical expectations of science. The aim of science is not only to provide secure knowledge for society, but also to contribute to solving societal problems by the production of new knowledge. The increasing integration of science into the social context and the demand for practical relevance express the changed social function of science and are at the same time the starting point for scientific reflection on its relationship to society. Changes in science also manifest themselves in the foundation of new public and private research organisations and in new ways of knowledge use (e.g. in the form of direct reference to decision-making or mass media attention and coverage). Further, new patterns of institutional integration of science into society through hybrid organisations or loose cooperation networks can be observed.

One result of the knowledge society is the emergence of knowledge politics. The production, distribution and application of knowledge in society are increasingly subject to conscious control by politics and the economy. Knowledge politics, or regime of knowledge, represents a new field of politics, dealing with the role of science in society, new rules of knowledge application, and sanction of a possible misuse of knowledge. The importance of knowledge politics takes new forms not only in the face of the acceleration of knowledge production but also as a result of the growing possibilities to come into contact with new knowledge. With the rapid increase in findings, our possibilities and options for action multiply, since knowledge provides capacities for action or models of the reality. Knowledge is becoming increasingly important for economics, politics (as supplier of public issues and problems) and other social institutions. This volume analyses the changes in the production of science on three levels: the level of social integration into the system of political regulation and in the globally accelerating innovation process, the level of control, where new governance regimes for science are being discussed, and the level of organisation of scientific production based on case studies that show how problem-oriented research becomes established besides basic and applied research.


In the first part of the book, "Science Production in the Knowledge Society", the changed form and societal contextualisation of research is analysed.

Vyacheslav Stepin sees a transition from classical science to a post-non-classical science, in the sense that on the basis of an interdisciplinary science all essential elements of classical science are reconstructed and embedded in a social contextualisation and reflection process.

Thomas Heinze sees the essential characteristic of a change in scientific production in the increasing coupling of science and economy, where the social performance aspect of science is of particular importance. With the development of knowledge-based technologies, the interactive relationship between science and economy is structurally strengthened. The resulting co-production between them leads to the development of an intermediary innovation system in which the functional separation of basic research and applied research is abandoned in favour of problem-oriented knowledge production, where fundamentals and application aspects are systematically linked.

The contribution by Gerd Schienstock focuses on this newly developed innovation system. With the distinction between a new technological paradigm and national trajectories he has provided a useful approach to study both path creation and path dependency within an overall framework. To better understand this dynamic interaction between processes of path creation and path dependency, a clearer comprehension of the institutional interconnection between the scientific system and the economy is needed. The existing institutional setting does not channel a new growth path, but institutional renewal has to take place together with the creation of a new technological trajectory. Path creation, however, does not imply a total break with the existing growth path, instead the new path becomes a new layer in the wider national economy and innovation system; old and new path coexist side by side mutually influencing each other.

Gotthard Bechmann analyses the integration of science into the political process of regulation. Climate research, risk research, and global change research are new fields of transdisciplinary research that do not lead to a dedifferentiation of science and politics; but within the functional differentiation of society, new forms of mediation emerge on the institutional and cognitive level that give rise to new forms of coupling the two systems. In this case, we can speak of problem-oriented or decision-oriented science that leads to research-based policy.


The second part of the book, "The Governance of Science", discusses problems of the regulation of societal science.

Nico Stehr's presentation is conceived as part of a line of inquiry into the reasons for controlling novel scientific knowledge, and the ways of doing so, by major social institutions within and across modern knowledge-based societies. The emerging focus of sociology of knowledge inquiry should be on issues that may be designated as knowledge politics. He describes and delineates the notion of knowledge politics as a new field of political activity. When it comes to the utilisation of new capacities for action (that is, knowledge), knowledge politics does not have to be restrictive a priori; his focus, however, is on efforts to anticipate the effects of new knowledge on social relations, and attempts to control its impact. He stresses the changing relations between science and society, and the distinction between knowledge and science policy will be introduced.

Armin Grunwald poses the question of how far "vision assessment" can contribute to rationalising the regulation of possible effects of future technologies already at present. Nanotechnology has considerably influenced the scientific and societal thinking about futures. His contribution focuses on the epistemological questions behind future expectations, fears and visions emerging in the nanotechnology debate. The main thesis is that future developments are accessible as future ones, but as our present images of them.

Thomas Brante seeks to explicate the social and theoretical conditions behind the development of psychiatry during the last 50 years, in particular neuropsychiatry's present hegemony in the field of the "personal problems jurisdiction" as well as in the general lay conception of normal and deviant human behaviour. His points of departure are recent philosophy of science and sociology of the professions. Nowadays these two subjects often address both cognitive and social factors for explaining scientific and professional dynamics, and this paper is no exception. He goes from the more abstract to the more concrete, and starts with a figure summarising four main types of factors often referred to for explaining the development of knowledge claims. The figure also provides the disposition of the article. He uses a method called "zooming in", that is, each box in the figure constitutes one vantage point for approaching "the new psychiatry", in turn constituting the vantage point for discussing one of its manifestations, the diagnosis of ADHD. ADHD is chosen as illustration because it is the fastest growing diagnosis during the latest decade, and also the diagnosis about which most research has been conducted.

In her article, Jaquelyne Luce analyses donor insemination as an infertility therapy that occurred in physicians' offices as a medical procedure. Donor insemination emerged as a low- or no-tech method of conception or assisted reproduction technology, which in contrast to other reproductive technologies such as prenatal testing, or ultrasound, etc. was viewed as potentially empowering, enabling women to become pregnant outside of the context of a sexual relationship with a partner. She describes and analyses the regulatory practices in this emerging field of knowledge politics. She looks specifically at the regulatory borders, paying attention to multiple sites and practices by which reproductive science and medicine is both governed and regulated to find the cultural and experiential specificities defining the relationships of health, technology and reproduction. In recent decades, these borders have shifted, and have been legislatively dismantled or enforced and scientifically rebuked or supported. In many ways such borders are thought about as symbolic, figurative means of expressing cultural limitations. Yet, the borders in question in reproductive medicine and science are also the literal geographic and political borders, which control the movement of people and goods, and across which knowledge exchange is facilitated, restricted, or mediated. She describes "border stories" relating to the management and access of assisted reproduction services and the competing interests that regulatory borders serve.


The third part of the book, "Organisation of Problem-oriented Research: Case Studies" presents case studies looking into the emerging problem-, decision-, and innovation-oriented research from different perspectives.

Victor Danilov- Danil'yan analyses the content of the concept of sustainable development and formulates a new definition. Sustainable development is a mode of social development in which its natural base is not destroyed, the living conditions created do not degrade human beings and socially destructive processes do not develop to such an extent that they threaten the security of society. It will be possible to find an answer to the challenge to the survival of humankind only if all means of persuasion compatible with humanism are mobilised in order to attain that goal.

Using the example of nanotechnology, Vitaly Gorokhov analyses the shift in the understanding of the difference between nature and artefact (technology) due to the technological practice.

The concepts of the natural and the artificial are the products of ancient philosophy. In modern times, this problem was pondered over in connection with the development of experimental natural science. Galileo's main achievement in solving this problem was not so much in differentiating as in relating these two concepts and ascertaining their mutual convertibility. We make a differentiation between organism (natural) and machine (artificial). But nanoscale devices as "molecular motors" which transduce "chemical energy into mechanical energy" can also exist in the natural form and be used "for bacterial locomotion". In these cases the organisms are described as specific complex machines.

Jost Halfmann and Falk Schützenmeister show that the demand for "robust" knowledge in social problem solving appears to minimise the role of basic science in society, as Mode-2 theorists claim. Their article presents a case study of how a social problem - air pollution - and the ensuing research policy programmes create major research efforts in the participating scientific communities. The outcome - the explanation of the causes of air pollution - required answers to basic questions of the dynamics and composition of the air which led to the creation of a new subdiscipline of atmospheric science - atmospheric chemistry. Rather than diluting the essence of scientific knowledge - to create an authoritative description of reality - in favour of its mere utility, problem-orientation of research has led in the case presented here to fundamental changes in the view of reality by the sciences involved.



[2]  One could speculate about the lasting influence of ancient Greek and early modern philosophy, which tend to work on the basis of these two metaphors. The concept of knowledge as a social process and as a process of construction is of much more recent origin

[3]  Contingency refers to things that are neither necessary nor impossible

[4]  On numerous occasions in his work, Marx makes reference to astronomy as the "paradigm" science for political economy, perhaps most famously in volume 1 of Capital: "The superficiality of political economy shows itself in the fact that it looks upon the expansion and contraction of credit, which is a mere symptom of the periodic changes of the industrial cycle, as their cause. As the heavenly bodies, once thrown into a certain definite motion, always repeat this, so is it with social production as soon as it is once thrown into this movement of alternate expansion and contraction." (Marx [1867] 1970: 593). It comes as no surprise, then, that he declares it his ultimate aim "to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society" ([1867] 1970: 10).


Erstellt am: 27.09.2008 - Kommentare an: webmaster