The Value of Strident Agnosticism : Dorothy Pawluch and the Endurance of Ontological Gerrymandering

The American Sociologist 53:176-187 (forthcoming)
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This paper reflects on the origins and subsequent reception of the paper "Ontological Gerrymandering: The anatomy of social problems explanations", published in 1985. It describes the circumstances of my turning up at McGill University as a Visiting Professor in Sociology and meeting Dorothy, then a graduate student and the TA assigned to an undergraduate course on Social Problems which I was asked to teach. The paper reflects on the twin benefits: of an interloper, from Europe and from Science and Technology Studies (STS), entering the exotic and heady fray of North American social problems; and of Dorothys steady and resolute guidance in introducing me to a new field. The paper suggests some reasons for the endurance of the papers arguments, more than 35 years after its publication, drawing on some parallel developments in Social Problems and STS. It asks why has there been rather little mutual interaction between these disciplines, given their common concern with questions, among others, about values, effects and interventions in academic scholarship. The paper concludes that many more of us might have done well to pursue the path of strident agnosticism.



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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to the Actor-Network Theory.Bruno Latour - 2005 - Oxford, England and New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press.
The sociology of science: theoretical and empirical investigations.Robert King Merton - 1973 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Norman W. Storer.

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