Sociological Forum

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 155–177

Why the social sciences won't become high-consensus, rapid-discovery science

  • Randall Collins


A research front of rapid discovery, leaving a trail of cognitive consensus behind it, is characteristic of natural sciences since about the 17th century in Europe. The basis of this high-consensus, rapid-discovery science is not empiricism, since empirical research existed in the natural sciences before the 17th century. The key is appropriation of genealogies of research technologies, which are pragmatically manipulated and modified to produce new phenomena; high consensus results because there is higher social prestige in moving ahead to new research discoveries than by continuing to dispute the interpretation of older discoveries. The social sciences have not acquired this pattern of rapid discovery with high consensus behind the research front. Their fundamental disability is not lack of empirical research, nor failure to adhere to a scientific epistemology, nor the greater ideological controversy that surrounds social topics. What is fundamentally lacking in the social sciences is a genealogy of research technology, whose manipulation reliably produces new phenomena and a rapidly moving research front. Unless the social sciences invent new research hardware, they will likely never acquire much consensus or rapid discovery. Possibilities may exist for such development stemming from research technologies in microsociology and in artificial intelligence.

Key words

science research technology networks methodology 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Randall Collins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of California, RiversideRiversideUSA

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