Social epistemology

Social epistemology

Social epistemology is a broad set of approaches to the study of knowledge, all of which construe human knowledge as a collective achievement. Social epistemologists may be found working in many of the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, most commonly in philosophy and sociology. In addition to marking a distinct movement in traditional, analytic epistemology, social epistemology is associated with the interdisciplinary field of Science and Technology Studies (STS).

The emergence of social epistemology

The term "social epistemology" was first used by the library scientists Margaret Egan and Jesse Shera in the 1950s. Steven Shapin also used it in 1979. But its current sense began to emerge in the late 1980s. In 1987, the philosophical journal "Synthese" published a special issue on social epistemology, which would include two authors that have since taken the discipline in two divergent directions: Alvin Goldman and Steve Fuller3. Fuller founded a journal called "Social Epistemology: a journal of knowledge, culture, and policy" in 1987 and published his first book, "Social Epistemology", in 1988. Goldman's "Knowledge in a Social World" came out in 1999; he is currently editor of the journal "Episteme: a journal of social epistemology", which was founded in 2004. While the aims and scope of these two journals overlap in many respects, "Social Epistemology" is more open to science studies in addition to philosophy, while "the principal style [of "Episteme"] is that of analytical philosophy".

The basic view of knowledge that motivated the emergence of social epistemology can be traced to the work of Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault, which gained in prominence at the end of the 1960s. Both brought historical concerns directly to bear on problems long associated with the philosophy of science. Perhaps the most notable issue here was the nature of truth, which both Kuhn and Foucault described as a relative and contingent notion. On this background, ongoing work in the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) and the history and philosophy of science (HPS) was able to assert its epistemological consequences, leading most notably to the establishment of the "Strong Programme" at the University of Edinburgh. In terms of the two strands of social epistemology, Fuller is more sensitive and receptive to this historical trajectory (if not always in agreement) than Goldman, whose self-styled 'veritistic' social epistemology can be reasonably read as a systematic rejection of the more extreme claims associated with Kuhn and Foucault.

Present and future concerns

At this stage, both varieties of social epistemology remain largely "academic" or "theoretical" projects. But both emphasise the social significance of knowledge and therefore the cultural value of social epistemology itself. Both journals, for example, welcome papers that include a policy dimension. More practical applications of social epistemology can be found in the areas of library science, academic publishing and knowledge policy.


1. "What Is Social Epistemology? A Smorgasbord of projects", in "Pathways to Knowledge: Private and Public", Oxford University Press, Pg:182-204, ISBN 0-19-517367-8
2. "Relativism, Rationality and Sociality of Knowledge", Barry Barnes and David Bloor, in "Rationality and Relativism", Pg:22 ISBN 0-262-58061-6
3. A comparison of Goldman and Fuller can be found in "Legitimizing Scientific Knowledge: An Introduction to Steve Fuller's Social Epistemology", Francis Remedios, Lexington Books, 2003. pp.106 -112.
4. "Social Epistemology", Steve Fuller, Indiana University Press, p. 3.

ee also

*Steve Fuller, Social Epistemologist
*Social constructionism


* Egan, Margaret and Jesse Shera. 1952. "Foundations of a Theory of Bibliography." "Library Quarterly" 44:125-37.
* Longino, Helen. 1990. "Science as Social Knowledge". Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02051-5
* Longino, Helen. 2001. "The Fate of Knowledge". Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08876-4
* Remedios, Francis. 2003. "Legitimizing Scientific Knowledge: An Introduction to Steve Fuller’s Social Epistemology". Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-0667-8
* Schmitt, Frederick F. 1994. "Socializing Epistemology". Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-8476-7959-4
* Solomon, Miriam. 2001. "Social Empricism". Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-19461-9

External links

* [ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry]
* [ The journal "Social Epistemology"]
* [ The journal "Episteme"]

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