SOCI 325: Sociology of Science


The ‘strong programme’ and scientific anti-realism

  1. Administrative
  2. David Bloor and the
    strong programme
  3. Reading discussion


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David Bloor
& the strong programme

Strong Programme

Structure of the chapter

Define the 'strong programme' in the sociology of science

  • Motivation and four central tenets
  • causal, impartial, symmetrical, reflexive

Anticipate and refute arguments against the strong programme

  • The autonomy of knowledge counter-argument
    Certain knowledge does not need explanation to be considered true
  • The empiricism counter-argument
    Certain knowledge-producing processes tend to generate true knowledge
  • The self-refutation counter-argument
    How can we reject judgements of truth or falsehood without considering the truth or falsehood of our own theories?
  • The future knowledge counter-argument
    A causal model of knowledge would allow us to ‘pre-discover’ future discoveries, which is inconsistent with our ideas of what knowledge is

This can be a confusing way to structure an argument!

Strong Programme

The Sociology of knowledge should be:

(Bloor 1976, 7)



It would be causal, that is, concerned with the conditions which bring about belief or states of knowledge. Naturally there will be other types of causes apart from social ones which will cooperate in bringing about belief.



It would be impartial with respect to truth and falsity, rationality or irrationality, success or failure. Both sides of these dichotomies will require explanation.



It would be symmetrical in its style of explanation. The same types of cause would explain, say, true and false beliefs.



It would be reflexive. In principle its patterns of explanation would have to be applicable to sociology itself. Like the requirement of symmetry this is a response to the need to seek for general explanations. It is an obvious requirement of principle because otherwise sociology would be a standing refutation of its own theories.

Non-symmetrical Soc. of Science


  • Functionalist accounts explain scientific processes in terms of the kind of knowledge they produce.
  • Merton looked for the kinds of structures that produce true scientific knowledge, differentiated from false.

“Sociology of error” (Bloor 1976, 12)

  • History of science as the triumph of correct knowledge over incorrect (Whig history).
  • Aims to explain incidence of incorrect knowledge.
  • E.g. Goodyear (2016), Gould (1981), …

Bloor: non-symmetric approaches rely on ‘internal’ explanations for things deemed true and ‘external’ explanations for those deemed false.


Knowledge as object of study

  • Bloor and the other strong-programmers say that the sociology of science should incorporate a sociology of scientific knowledge itself.
  • They promote a search for general, causal explanations for emergence, maintenance, and demise of knowledge.

Impartial and symmetrical

  • If explanations are general, then they should be agnostic to judgements of truth or falsehood.
    Historically, such judgements are malleable.
  • We should aim to explain all types of knowledge (impartiality), and explain them using the same theories and mechanisms (symmetry).

Knowledge vs. Belief

  • Without recourse to internal determinations of rationality or truth, strong programmers need a more general way to identify knowledge.
    Rationality and truth should themselves be objects of study.
  • Social criterion for knowledge allows sociologists of scientific knowledge to define the scope of what needs to be explained.

“Of course knowledge must be distinguished from mere belief. This can be done by reserving the word ‘knowledge’ for what is collectively endorsed, leaving the individual and idiosyncratic to count as mere belief.” (Bloor 1976, 5)

Next class

Feminist epistemologies

  • Haraway (1988)
    Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective
  • Martin (1991)
    The Egg and the Sperm