How does science create knowledge? Epistemic cultures, shaped by affinity, necessity, and historical coincidence, determine how we know what we know. In this book, Karin Knorr Cetina compares two of the most important and intriguing epistemic cultures of our day, those in high energy physics and molecular biology. Her work highlights the diversity of these cultures of knowing and, in its depiction of their differences--in the meaning of the empirical, the enactment of object relations, and the fashioning of social relations--challenges the accepted view of a unified science.
By many accounts, contemporary Western societies are becoming "knowledge societies"--which run on expert processes and expert systems epitomized by science and structured into all areas of social life. By looking at epistemic cultures in two sample cases, this book addresses pressing questions about how such expert systems and processes work, what principles inform their cognitive and procedural orientations, and whether their organization, structures, and operations can be extended to other forms of social order.
The first ethnographic study to systematically compare two different scientific laboratory cultures, this book sharpens our focus on epistemic cultures as the basis of the knowledge society.
[Karin Cetina] has studied the behavior and practices of physicists in the process of trying to acquire knowledge of the basic components of the universe, and of biologists seeking empirical knowledge of natural objects. According to Cetina, the way the two groups go about their business is fundamentally different, and this difference has something to tell us about how we know what we know...A thorough and thoughtful examination of the epistemic underpinning of a knowledge society.
There are many provocative and very interesting things in this book, above all the fairly dramatic and systematic contrast between the working cultures and organizational structures of experimental high energy physics laboratories and molecular biology ones. The opening framework for contrasting these two sciences by their empirical, technological, and social machineries is enormously suggestive. All this should help set a working agenda for anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers of science and technology of how to explore, elaborate, and expand upon the now often stated proposition that the sciences are diverse in their methods and approaches to the world.
- 2001, Winner of the Robert K. Merton Book Award
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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