SOCI 325: Sociology of Science


Normal science, paradigms, and scientific revolutions

  1. Student discussion questions
  2. The Kuhnian revolution
  3. Reading discussion

Student discussion questions

Discussion question assignments

  • Everyone should have received an email that looks like this:
  • These list the date of the class period that your question should relate to and the due date for submitting the question.
  • E.g. the question for the class of November 9 (Poudrier 2007) is due on November 6.
  • Turn these in on the “Assignments” tab on Teams
    (assignment folders will be added soon)

Student discussion questions

Two-part submissions:

1. Prompt

  • One (broad) idea, described in a few sentences
  • Can contain multiple, related “questions”
  • Can contain quotes from text
  • Should use in-text (parenthetical) citations

2. Motivation

  • A few sentences describing where the question is coming from and where I hope it may lead
  • Counts toward score, but will not be published if your question is chosen for inclusion


Merton wrote The normative structure of science early in his career in 1942 (during World War II) and included it in a collection of his work on the sociology of science in 1973 (during the Cold War). How might the political climate of this time span in America have influenced his work? Do his theories cast science in a particular light? How does this work look through the lens of Wolfe's (2018) depiction of science during the Cold War?

I was thinking about the age of Merton’s piece, (published more than 80 years ago!) in the context of the course theme “history of science is a social history.” Rather than just understanding the reading as an example of the sociology of science, I thought it would be interesting to treat it as the object of our inquiry. In addition to helping us understand Merton’s arguments in context, I hope this will raise the larger issue of whether we can apply the tools of the sociology of science to the sociology of science itself.

Kuhnian revolution

Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996)

  • Physicist by training
  • Transitioned to history and philosophy of science after PhD

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

  • First published in 1962
  • “Normal science” vs.
    “paradigm shifts”
  • Directly confronted the prevailing (functionalist) view of science as an institution
  • Had a huge impact, arguably spurring its own paradigm shift in the philosophy and sociology of science
A book cover. Flat red with large white text reading 'The structure of scientific revolutions' and small black text reading 'Thomas S. Kuhn'.

Example from particle physics


Crisis & revolution!

(paradigm shift)








Widespread agreement on elementary particles (proton, neutron, electron, photon)

Continued discovery of more and more members of the elementary “particle zoo”

Active development of new models (e.g. “eightfold way”)

Acceptance of Standard Model, explaining existing anomalies in a new theoretical framework, and predicting the existence of undiscovered particles

Experiments confirming predictions of the Standard Model, mainly through observation of predicted particles(top quark, tau neutrino, Higgs boson)

A labeled diagram of protons, neutrons, and electrons. A diagram of the '8-fold-way', showing various subatomic particles arranged on a hexagonal grid. A diagram of the 'standard model' in elementary particles, showing a structured grid of different particles with labels.

See Pickering (1984) “Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics”

Why was Kuhn "revolutionary"?

A black and white portrait of a white man with thick rimmed glasses, apparently from the 1970s


  • Positivism is the idea that
    neutral observations inform and shape objective knowledge and theories.
  • In TSSR, Kuhn suggests instead that the theoretical frameworks of a paradigm shape observations and define scientific facts.
  • For Kuhn, facts do not exist without a paradigm that can give them meaning. Observation is dependent on theory.


  • Falsificationism is the idea that
    theories are disproven by counter-examples.
  • Kuhn argues that counter-examples (anomalies) do not normally cause crisis.
  • Only during revolutions in paradigm are anomalies employed as justification for new worldviews.

Next class

Structural barriers to participation in science

Required reading

  • van den Brink and Benschop (2012)
    Gender practices in the construction of
    academic excellence: Sheep with five legs

Image credit

A labeled diagram of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Image credited to CNX OpenStax via Wikimedia

A labeled diagram of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Image via Wikimedia

A diagram of the 'standard model' in elementary particles, showing a structured grid of different particles with labels.

Image via Wikimedia

A black and white portrait of a white man with thick rimmed glasses, apparently from the 1970s

Photo by Bill Pierce/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image via The Guardian

November Revolution: discovery of “J/psi meson” (charm/anticharm), announced 11 November 1974 Pickering, Andrew. Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics. Reprint edition. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1999.