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School of Social Sciences

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BSocSc Sociology
Learn to critically analyse and interpret societies and gain skills for a variety of careers.

BSocSc Sociology / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Sociology of Science

Unit code SOCY20082
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Sociology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The production of knowledge has always been a key factor in society, and some contemporary scholars advance the argument that its production and accessibility play a critical role in today’s western societies. Understanding how knowledge is produced and validated entails some sociological questions regarding the structure of power, hierarchies, controversies, and alliances which underlie the work of science itself. This is the main object of analysis in the sociology of science.


The module presents and discusses the various sociological perspectives that have attempted to uncover the social factors that play a crucial role in scientific discoveries and in validation of results. Covering the approaches of structural functionalism, scientific revolutions, symbolic interactionism, laboratory studies, structural analysis, actor network theory, and social network analysis, the course gives students the grounding to critically evaluate these various approaches and their scientific contribution.


The course aims to provide a good overview of the various sociological approaches to the study of science, both at the theoretical and the empirical level. Each lecture is combined with a practical workshop and a tutorial where students are asked to analyse and discuss relevant material that will elucidate the main principles of each perspective: in some cases materials are previously provided (scientific articles, empirical data), in some others students will have to collect their own material, and if possible students will be taken to visit a scientific laboratory.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will:

  • Understand and critically evaluate the various theoretical approaches to the study of scientific production.
  • Relate the theoretical approaches to their empirical applications, and evaluate their scientific contributions to sociology of science
  • Reflect upon various types of qualitative and quantitative materials, and analyse them in light of the theoretical perspectives presented in lectures
  • Read, summarise and review an academic publication, and discuss it with the rest of the class


Introduction to sociology of science. Overview of the course. The evolution of the scientific method

Structural functionalism, Merton, and the macro perspective.

Thomas Kuhn: controversies, conflicts and changes in scientific paradigms.

The Edinburgh school: the strong programme

Laboratory studies, the Bath School and Actor network theory : the construction of scientific objects

Pierre Bourdieu and field theory

The sociology of technology

Controversies and science wars

Social network analysis: from invisible colleges to multilevel analysis

Science and society: communicating science and controversies

Teaching and learning methods

The course is organised as follow:

  • 1 hour lecture: each week introduces the main elements and basic concepts of various schools of sociology of science. Lectures are based on required readings.
  • 1 hour workshop: students are asked to work in small groups on practical tasks.
  • 1 hour tutorial: students are expected to prepare a reading (indicated each week in the course outline) and are provided written questions that they have to answer in class.

The module requires that you study for a minimum of 12 hours per week. This is comprised of teaching and independent study in these proportions:

  • 3 hours lectures and tutorials
  • At least 3 hours reading the Key Reading;
  • At least 3 hours reading an additional text from the reading list;
  • At least 3 hours written work for assessed and non-assessed assignments.

This leaves 80 hours study time remaining to be used in independent study over the duration of the course. 

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Feedback methods

  • Informal verbal formative feedback will be given during lectures and tutorials. (You’ll need to contribute regularly to group discussions to make the best use of this.)
  • Written formative feedback will be given on your non-assessed assignment and made available via Turnitin. Half a day individual feedback discussion will be available in the lecturer’s office.
  • Written formative and summative feedback will be given on your assessed coursework, available via Turnitin. Half a day individual feedback discussion will be available in the lecturer’s office.

Recommended reading

The following textbook is compulsory:

  • Bucchi M., Science in Society, 2004, Routledge, London


Several of the suggested readings are taken from the following books:

  • Klemke E.D., Hollinger R., Rudge D.W., 1998, Introductory readings in the Philosophy of science, Prometheus books, New York
  • Barber B. and Hirsch W., 1962, The sociology of science, The free press of Glencoe, New York
  • Knorr K.D., Krohn R., Whitley R., 1981, The social process of scientific investigation, Reidel Publishing company, Dordrecht and London. online
  • MacKenzie D. and Wajcman J., 1999, The social shaping of technology, Open University press, Buckingham
  • Cheng, D., Claessens, M., Gascoigne, N.R.J., Metcalfe, J., Schiele, B., Shi, S. (Eds.) 2008, Communicating Science in Social Contexts: New models, new practices, Springer

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Elisa Bellotti Unit coordinator

Additional notes

2015/16 timetable

Thursday 14:00 - 16:00, plus a separate one-hour tutorial (range of times available)

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