The Structure of Scientific
◦ Author of “The Structure of Scientific
◦ Introduces two key idea that impact
virtually every discipline.
Science does not always proceed in a
straightforward logical fashion. Science is as
much a political endeavor as anything else.
Science is organized into different competing
schools of thought called Paradigms.
Examples of Kuhn‟s ideas
Publishing in academia
◦ When an academic publishes they go
through a process called peer review.
◦ If a journal editor wants to kill an article he
can send it to people who are non-
sympathetic to a particular view.
e.g. from UNLV Sociology department. We are
known for sex research. Our department is
sympathetic towards people working as sex
workers (prostitutes). Many academics are not.
Many articles which are sympathetic towards those
working in those jobs get rejected, or sent to a peer
review committee which will reject them.
More Examples of Kuhn‟s
Demand for Types of Science
◦ What gets funded helps determine what
e.g. if I put out a call for grant proposals for the
study of internet usage, suddenly that line of
Institutions can issue a decree on what they
◦ Demands are subjective. What I think is
important gets funded, and is thought to
Kuhn‟s Big Point
Most of the time science proceeds
incrementally, building off of the work
that came before. However, science is
also subject to social and political forces.
Paradigms represent this idea of a
„school of thought‟. They are largely a
collective of researchers who share a
particular view of how the world works.
Most paradigm shifts, occur when a
prominent figure changes to another
paradigm not from a revolutionary
Elements of a Paradigm
Ontology (world view)
◦ This is the paradigmatic idea of how the
world works. It is the paradigms story.
◦ This is the preferred way those in the
paradigm do research.
◦ This is the political and policy implications
that arise from the paradigm. Often it is the
◦ Simply the limitations of each paradigm.
◦ The social world is like the natural world made up of
law like, universal patterns that can be used to
explain and predict behavior.
◦ Use the methods of the natural sciences.
◦ Social engineering. Develop social laws, like the law
of thermo dynamics, that can be used to control
◦ Big criticism is that the social world is not like the
natural world and that this view is too scientific. What
if the social world is fundamentally different from the
◦ The social world is a world fundamentally different from the natural world. It is a
world of meaning.
◦ Utilize methods which allow the sociologist to get at „meaning‟. In depth
interviewing, spending time with people in their environment (ethnography or
fieldwork), or analyzing documents (diaries, photographs, etc.).
◦ Those practicing this paradigm believe that the key to social conflict lies in aiding
in mutual understanding. In other words, those source of marginalization is a
lack of understanding.
◦ The biggest critique is that this view is not scientific, to which those within the
paradigm respond by say yes, by your definition of science. However, as one
uncovers certain fields one finds that even the most scientific of disciplines are not
as scientific as they would like to appear. Additionally, if the social world is a world
of meaning using a microscope to understand meaning is not a wise idea. Would
you ask a rock what it means to be a rock? In other words, the natural science
model is not a good fit for the social sciences.
◦ The social world is made up of patterns, but these patterns are man made (not
natural) and therefore we can change them.
◦ Largely historical, but they use anything that works to prove their point. They are
attempting to show patterns of inequality and how they change over time.
Race, gender, and sexual orientation are all categories which people are
marginalized. E.g. I can show how race is a category which has changed over time.
Irish and Italians were at one time marginalized, today however they are considered
„white‟. Or, I can show how there is a gendered pay gap in the states but in other
European countries this pay gap does not exist.
◦ Emancipatory liberation. They seek societal change and to reduce inequalities.
Adherents to this view believe if you make people aware of their situation they will
change. E.g. if you show people there is not scientific evidence for race, people will
stop being racist and realize racism is based on bogus data. Or, if you show people
that they are being used by an exploitative work system they will rally to change the
◦ Assumes people are more rational than they really are. Sometimes if you show
people how the system works they feel powerless to change it and therefore, nothing
◦ The social world is a fragmented world, without a grand narrative. The best
way to understand that world is by constructing miniature situational subjective
theories of existence.
◦ Postmodernists are look for new methods of understanding. They assume
the metaphors we have been using are wrong. They borrow methods from
literature, the arts, and other disciplines to make sense of the world. Some
examples include: performance ethnography, ethnographic poetry, dance, and
a variety of other methods. The idea is that we can no longer represent the
world in the way we have traditionally, and that maybe a poem says a lot
more about the human condition than a book.
◦ Resistance of the grand narrative, and the destruction of formal categories.
Example: We have the category of race. It is a kind of universal classification
scheme we put people into based on skin type. Postmodernists say let‟s just
do away with the category all together.
◦ The idea that there is no grand narrative is a grand narrative.
◦ Yes, categories of marginalization (race) should not matter, but we know
they do matter for people living in the „real‟ world. People experience „real‟
There are times when not everyone fits neatly
into these schools of thought. But, most do.
If you understand this, you can argue
academically with anyone.
Most scientists do not go around calling
themselves an interpretative, critical, positivist, or
postmodernist. Sometimes you have to look for
„word clues‟. (e.g. positivism –
biological, interpretative – meaningful, or
constructed, critical – inequality, political, or
conflict, postmodernists- they usually admit what
Scientists can change paradigms depending on
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