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When Worlds Collide: Scientists Doing Science in the Social World

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Despite the traditional independence in academia between the science and social science traditions, science is, essentially, a social pursuit, intertwined with social conditions, structures, and processes. If science can be pictured as a form of human cultural activity, practiced by people called ‘scientists,’ then it should be regarded in sociological terms. Given the rapid growth of science in Asia, more sociological studies are thus needed there to unravel the interplay between science and society, and how scientists do science. The present study reports the findings of in-depth open-ended interviews with scientists in various universities and research institutes in Singapore. The overall research question was: How do scientists in Singapore do their work in a social world? The underlying questions were designed to explore the social complexity of scientists’ work. The findings showed that the workings of science were drawn together, and directed by, non-science elements. They included the market, which controls research agendas and fashions; economics, which determines the availability of funding and encourages collaboration; bureaucratic administration, which provides the resources available to do science; and fashions, which persuade researchers to pursue topics considered acceptable by their peers. The associations between science and non-science are also not harmonious. Various tensions were reported in the interviews. What can be done to remedy the colliding worlds of science and non-science? The answer lies in more sociological studies. The sociological study of science is a relatively new item on the academic agenda, and there is a paucity of research in the Asian context. This study identifies several avenues for further enquiry, and serves as a primer for further research.


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