Author: David Bloor
Title: Idealism and the Sociology of Knowledge
The sociology of scientific knowledge is an empirical discipline, but occasionally it can be fruitful to reflect on its methodological basis. Critics have sometimes claimed it is committed to a form of 'idealism', i.e. discounting or playing down the input of the material world. This arises because sociologists often sum up their conclusions by saying "knowledge is an institution" or "concepts are institutions". If we think of institutions according to the self-referential or performative model outlined by Barnes, this seems to reinforce and justify the charge of idealism. The main argument of the paper is to show that, while an 'idealist' account of institutions is correct, the conclusion alleged by the critics does not follow.