Center for Interdisziplinary Research

ZiF Research Group

Science in the Context of Application

Methodological Change, Conceptual Transformation, Cultural Reorientation

October 2006 - September 2007

Convenors: Martin Carrier (Bielefeld), Wolfgang Krohn (Bielefeld), Alfred Nordmann (Darmstadt), Gregor Schiemann (Wuppertal), Peter Weingart (Bielefeld)


The increasing practical relevance of science, its high technological ambitions, and the heavy application pressure under which it operates have prompted a flurry of analyses which converge in the claim that science has undergone a profound methodological and institutional transformation during the past decades. Pertinent labels like "technoscience," "post-normal science" and "mode-2 research" suggest that the assessment procedures in science, the relationship between science and technology, and the relationship between science and society have been subject to fundamental change.
In terms of the goals that are pursued, university research in the sciences tends to increasingly resemble research in industrial laboratories. This markedly technological orientation of research is claimed to have a significant methodological impact. Useful properties and options for intervention are at the focus of interest; theoretical representation is shifted into the background. Shaping nature, rather than understanding it, appears to be the chief objective of contemporary science.

Object of Research

The research group attempts, first, to identify characteristic institutional and methodological changes in the past half-century, and it seeks to clarify, second, whether it is really warranted to interpret these changes as a major, epoch-making realignment of science and technology in society.
In a first step, the proposed group will look into contemporary research practices. It will compare application-dominated and "epistemic" or truth-oriented research in regard to the role played in each by fundamental theories, confirmation procedures, models, simulations, and experiments.
The second step aims to elucidate the associated self-understanding of science as it regards changing relationships between science and society, science and nature, science and technology. The question is whether the observed changes amount to a cultural transformation.

Interdisciplinary Approach

Accounting for changes of scientific practice in their methodological, institutional, and societal context demands a truly interdisciplinary approach.
Philosophy of science is required for analyzing the epistemic procedures used in different social configurations and for illuminating their significance for the understanding and self-understanding of science.
Sociology of science is indispensible for charting the entangled territory of diverse institutional settings as they emerge in present-day society and for capturing the various social forces that act on science.
History of science is of crucial importance for dealing with the question whether the philosophical and sociological features identified are really novel or turn out to be fairly ordinary.
Cultural studies illuminate the role of visions and imagery in the development of science. Only by joining forces can these disciplinary approaches determine how deeply the changing interests and the public image of science permeate laboratory and publication practices. Finally, such analyses of science need to be confronted with the experience and understanding of the practitioners, i.e., scientists working under the heavy pressure of practical challenges and social demands.

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