Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Sociology - Faculty of Arts


This thesis concerns the institutionalisation of the physical sciences. The thesis breaks with the established traditions in the history, philosophy and sociology of sciences by attempting to capture both the cognitive and social dimensions of institutionalisation in one unified analysis. This unification has been achieved through a treatment of research as goal directed social action. This theme has been developed both theoretically and empirically.

Theoretically, the thesis draws on a range of sources but the main inspiration has been the phenomenologically inspired work of Alfred Schutz - particularly as explicated by Thomas Luckmann and Peter Berger. The theory that has been developed has been supported by two case studies of Australian researchers - a group of physicists involved with the inspiration and development of an economically viable thermally based solar energy array, and a group of neuropharmacologists investigating aspects of chemical transmission systems in the human brain and their relationship to schizophrenia.

The case material involves aspects of both structure and process in the life worlds of physical scientists. These aspects have been explored in considerable detail through the development of a system of eighteen related hypotheses. The overall picture of the physical sciences that is presented though, is one of structured sub-universes of meaning constituted through the actions of professionalised scientific workers.

Scientific research is portrayed as a highly social process with researchers working together as part of research programs. Research programs are defined as the primary locus of productive activity and are constituted through the (typically) collective activities of a group of research workers who share a commitment to particular research practices and techniques, who are directed in their research towards a shared set of goals, and who share, to some extent, a common stock of specialised knowledge.

The sub-universe of the research program is not without its conflicts and discontinuities, however. Researchers were observed to alternate between contexts of research and contexts of legitimation, which in the case of the solar energy researchers was a highly institutionalised separation of structures of relevance. This movement between contexts was in some cases associated with the experience of conflict in which scientists at times, found themselves in double bind situations where the demands of a more inwardly directed professionalism competed with demands of social relevance.

The scientific research described in the case studies was predominantly instrumental by virtue of being more highly directed towards technical goals and the means for their realisation than towards questions about the value of these goals. It is suggested that this instrumental ism is typical of all of the contemporary physical sciences.

The field work conducted in the course of the thesis involved the innovation of a method of "repeated feedback". In this method research accounts were generated through an iterative process which relied on the scientists to check and up-date a series of descriptions of their research. These descriptions were based on open ended interviews, questionnaire responses and non-formal interaction. Insofar as the method can be used to prevent unintended discrepancies between a sociologist's impressions of scientists' research and scientists' understandings, the method is particularly useful for the generation of accurate research accounts.

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