Decentering sociology: Synthetic dyes and social theory

Perspectives on Science 13 (3):352-405 (2005)
Abstract
: This essay addresses the difficulties that sociology as a discipline continues to experience in grasping the relations between technology, science and the social. I argue that these difficulties stem from a resolute centering of sociology on the social, which follows a generically Durkheimian blueprint. I elaborate a response to these difficulties which derives from recent lines of work in science and technology studies, and which entails a decentering of the social relative to the material and the conceptual, in terms of both objects of analysis and explanatory formats. In order to display the direct sociological relevance of this approach, I move to the macro level, developing the conceptual apparatus of a decentered social theory via the discussion of a historical example of major sociological significance—the systematic gearing together of scientific research, technological innovation and industrial production that originated in the synthetic dye industry in the second half of the nineteenth century. Besides the interest of the topic itself, the aim is thus to exemplify in some detail what a decentered sociology might look like, both empirically and conceptually
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