Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Social Science, Media and Communication - Faculty of Arts


Science is usually justified in terms of its utilitarian attributes. Modern professional astronomy has no obvious utilitarian rationale, yet it receives considerable resources to carry on its work. Concepts from the sociology of science and political sociology can be used to help explain this apparent puzzle. The means by which astronomy succeeds in procuring resources can be seen in terms of a process of legitimation. Professional astronomy justifies and explains itself to specific audiences, ensuring that funding agencies will see astronomy as worthy of support. Several activities are suggested as legitimation practices. The mechanics of funding are discussed, followed by a description of modern professional astronomy as a 'big science'. Boundary work and popularisation are examined as important legitimation practices. Boundary work constructs a path for astronomy that legitimises it by allying the field to successful sciences such as physics, and distancing it from other activities such as ufology and astrology. Astronomy is popular with the public, and this popularity gives rise to a groundswell of support, and is used to promote astronomy as educating a public that will support science in general. The professional structures of astronomy serve to mark out astronomers as an elite scientific group, with an esoteric knowledge that includes high levels of mathematics. Astronomers' specialist technical skills can be of use in a variety of situations, but the scientific and mathematical knowledge itself also contributes to successful legitimation. It is concluded that the primary rationale for the funding of astronomy is humanistic rather than utilitarian.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.