4S Volume 02 Issue 01 (Winter, 1977)


Issue in brief (PDF repository for all issues is here, just click the issue you want to view in PDF format):

  1. HM Collins, Dorothy Nelkin, and a young Thomas F. Gieryn reflect on the first annual meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science.
  2. Abstracts from all the papers presented at the first meeting in Ithaca, NY — nice.
  3. A flattering transcript of Polsby’s introduction to Merton’s presidential address.
  4. A lengthy review of Bloor’s “Knowledge and Social Imagery.”
  5. In the “recently completed dissertations” section, we see that Thomas F. Gieryn has just completed his work at Columbia working under Merton.

I will devote my commentary primarily about the reflections — by HM Collins, Dorothy Nelkin, and a young Thomas F. Gieryn — on the first annual meeting. However, Polsby’s introduction to Merton is a must-read for history buffs.

First, Collins is way funnier than I remember him. His opening remarks are about his fears of America and mention fertilization after marriage! Also, he hits on a part of the professional society that is alive today — “for meeting the unsuspected individuals here and there, often in isolation, with whom one was immediately “on a wavelength.”” He goes on to make some outlandish comments about the organization of tables during the banquet and how he “took too much wine.” Still, he closes mentioning that he hopes that the friendly criticism and international flavor of the event can be extended into the future years.

After the meeting, Nelkin refers to the society as operating in a “postpartal stage” — odd. She mentions that sociologists essentially thought of the professional society — or, at least, had dominant numbers during the foundation — but that the society attended to issues far beyond sociology as usual (even sociology of science as usual). Dorothy mentions a number of “troublesome” observations such as why there seemed to be little methodological coherence among the papers, why developing countries were rarely mentioned, or why political science seemed so distant from the concerns of the presenters (by the way, one might mention those same concerns at any of the meetings I’ve been to, but perhaps they are less pronounced now than then, but it is interesting to see how enduring these concerns are). Her comments on Latour are fun:

Latour proposed another interesting tool through which to understand normal science: using anthropological methods, he investigated science as “action,” studying the smallest units of research activity, its patterns of gestures and informal communication. In the early development of an organization that has formed on the basis of common interest in a topic, such methodological innovation is crucial.

While Nelkin acknowledges that the diversity of presentations cut both ways — annoying that there was no common approach or core, but also that it was one of the most endearing part of the meeting as a whole — still, it ought to be preserved in future years, she concludes. Nice.

Gieryn, having perhaps just completed his dissertation and presumably going to Ithaca with Merton himself, provides an astute set of reflections, opens with:

The self-exemplifying character of the 4S Conference is, for one sociologist, the prominent memory of three packed days. Our actions in Ithaca provided many examples of our ideas about such occasions.

He balances his observation that the meeting signifies a stage of advancing institutionalization of the previously invisible college of STS, while:

The dialogues and often satirical criticisms following just about every paper at the Conference demonstrate that the 4S is following the modal pattern of scientific societies which adopt a pluralistic position with regard to intellectual aims and methodological strategies.

His final paragraph includes “Dutch Uncle” and reference to Simmel’s “Stranger,” after which he concludes that:

The stimulating Conference would have sunk to an insipid state were it not for these and other unignorable figures who cause us to look to the second 4S gathering not with weariness but with eager anticipation.

As always, all issues are here.

6 thoughts on “4S Volume 02 Issue 01 (Winter, 1977)

  1. Pingback: Go EASST! | Andreas Bischof

  2. it’s a recording of a few meetings and so a quick but i think important read, be interested in what you make of it.


  3. Yeah, I checked out that post as soon as you previously posted it — Collins is quite right and the google line is funny even (I had no idea how funny this guy is). That idea is also alive in library studies and an field that requires access to old manuscripts — people can just google search for key terms, find them, catalog them, often just lifting them without a real sense of the context, and then “play scholar” .

    Regarding the other piece — do you have a link?


  4. I’ll have to check in with my dad and see when he started to get involved with the STS crowd @ Cornell, Collins gives an overview of the history of these studies in this interview:

    and I just yesterday read a parallel account of the history of contemporary anthro in the US “Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary, with G. Marcus” which I would highly recommend (not only b/c they come to the same conclusion that I have that we need “design” studios of methods/modes), thanks for these highlights.


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