Scientific Specialization as Utopian Practice
Sociology The Pennsylvania State University University Park, Uniter States of America
This paper will attempt to reconcile scientists´ adherence to professional norms of objectivity with the material and organizational requirements of collective action on the part of members of scientific specialties using Karl Mannheim´s sociology of knowledge. Mannheim specifies that social-structural position is a primary determinant of the structure of thought. When scientific specialties are conceptualized as particular social-structural positions within the scientific field as a whole, Mannheim´s sociology of knowledge becomes a powerful tool for understanding the behavior of scientists. One of the key insights Mannheim offers to explain how ostensibly disinterested scientists can act collectively on behalf of interests in their specialty is that location of a group in a social-structural position limits that group´s ability to see the entire intellectual field, and so it tends to treat as factual only those elements of reality which are congruous with its own perspective: certain oppressed groups are intellectually so strongly interested in the destruction and transformation of a given society that that unwittingly see only those elements in the situation which tend to negate it. Their thinking is incapable of correctly diagnosing an existing condition of society (Ideology and Utopia, p. 40). Thus the struggle for capital in the scientific field may be conceptualized as the struggle between the ideologies of specialties which claim hegemony in jurisdiction over a particular interpretation of nature, and the utopias of competitor specialties demanding a restructuring of the scientific field which would allow them a place among legitimate science.