Traditions of Research
Before considering in detail the sociological implications of Kuhn’s work, there is much to be said for a chapter which attempts a distant overview, a first reconnaissance of the intellectual landscape. It is particularly useful to be aware that Kuhn writes not as a sociologist but as a professional historian. Although he is known as the author of a ‘theory of science’, a vision of scientific change which is often compared with those of Popper or Lakatos, this can be misleading, and does him less than justice: his thinking is in the main much more concrete and empirical. Kuhn is indeed deeply involved with the general question of what science, scientific research as it is actually practised, is really like; but many of his methods and assumptions first appear as he seeks to unravel specific historical problems. Let us begin, then, with Kuhn’s early papers on thermodynamics, where his historical methods can be seen in operation, put to work to answer particular questions. These methods are of sociological interest and continue to inform Kuhn’s subsequent work.
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