Knowledge Trouble : An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge and Intellectuals

Date: Every Friday at 11:40 am
Place: Room C17, Sociology Department, Charles University (Celetná 13, Praha 1)
Lecturer: Julien Wacquez (CEFRES/EHESS Paris)
Language: English


From public authorities struggling with the existence of climate change to notions such as “post-truth” or “post-factual” making the headlines, the recent years have brought a constant questioning of the role of knowledge in today’s polities. Is climate-change a hoax, as claimed by the current US president? Are Western democracies threatened by false information and “post-truths”? Who produces the knowledge we are using and to what purposes? And, in the end, what does it mean “to know” something in today’s cultures?

Noticing the centrality of knowledge production for contemporary societies, the course tries to provide some basic tools for answering such questions. Thus, the sessions of the course will inquire into the social mechanisms that make up scientific production, the way in which “science” becomes “Science.” It shows how notions and practices such as “objectivity”, “experiment”, “rationality,” or even different types of writing, are used in order to differentiate the scientist’s knowledge from our everyday concepts.

Relying on some of the classical texts in the sociology of science and Science and Technology Studies (STS),  the course will point out not only the porousness of the boundaries between science and everyday knowledge, but also how these boundaries are enforced: how experts become experts, and how facts are produced and distributed by them.

The class discussions aim at offering the students the possibility of critically reflecting upon their own access to knowledge: the possible ways in which they can make use of it, imagining themselves as intellectuals, experts, or simple knowledge users in today’s capitalism.

  • Class participation. Students are strongly encouraged to attend all classes. (20 % of the final grade)
  • One short presentation of the assigned readings (10 minutes) for each student. The presentation should provide a summary of the texts, backed up by a critical analysis. (35 % of the final grade)
  • Final paper (50 % of the final grade).
Programme and Bibliography

Week 1: Introduction: General Questions Raised by the Social Study of Science

Week 2: From Philosophy of Science to History of Science: The idea of ‘Progress’


  • Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1959 [1934]
  • Thomas Khun, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, 1962
  • Gerald Horton, ‘Science and Progress revisited’, in Leo Marx and Bruce Mazlish (eds.), Progress: Fact or Illusion?, 1996, pp. 9-26

Week 3: Science as a text I: The Rhetoric Approach


  • Peter L. Berger & Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality, Anchor Books, 1966.
  • Bruno Latour, Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts, 1979.

Week 4: Science as a text II: The Narrative Approach


  • Joseph Gusfield, The Culture of Public Problems, The University of Chicago Press, 1984, chapter 4 “Comedy and Pathos in Drinking-Driver Research” pp. 83-108.
  • Hayden White “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality”, in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 1, On Narrative, 1980, pp. 5-27.

Week 5: The methodological Principle of “Symmetry” in the Study of Controversies


  • David Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery, Routledge, 1976, chapter 1 “The Strong Program in the Sociology of Knowledge” pp.1-19.
  • Michel Callon, “Some element of a Sociology of Translation: domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay,” pp.196-233 in The Social Process of Scientific Investigation, Karin D. Knorr (ed.), Reidel Publishing, 1980.
  • Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France, Harvard University Press, 1988, chapter 1 “Strong Microbes and Weak Hygienists” pp.19-58.

Week 6: On the way scientists and non-scientists define “Nature”


  • Stefan Helmreich, Alien Ocean. Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas, University of California Press, 2009, chapter 4 “Alien Species, Native Politics. Mixing Up Nature and Culture in Ocean O’ahu” pp. 145-170.
  • Philippe Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture, University of Chicago Press, 2013.
  • Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think, University of California Press, 2013.
  • Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life on Capitalist Ruins, Princeton University Press, 2015.

Week 7: The Science Wars: Concreteness and ‘out-thereness’ of Reality


  • David Bloor, ‘Anti-Latour’, in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 30:1, 1999, pp. 81-112
  • Bruno Latour, ‘For Bloor and Beyond – A Reply to David Bloor’s Anti-Latour’, in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 30:1, 1999, pp. 113-129
  • Ian Hacking, The social construction of what?, Harvard University Press, 1999. Chapter “Madness: Biological or Constructed?”

Week 8: Knowledge or Beliefs? The Question of Rationality for Social Scientists


  • Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology, Prentice-Hall, 1967.
  • Jeanne Favret-Saada, Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage, Cambridge University Press, 1980. pp.3-28 

Week 9: Reconsidering the Divide Between ‘Science’ and ‘Literature’


  • Frederic Aït-Touati, Fictions of the Cosmos: Science and Literature in the Seventeenth Century, 2011.
  • Vincent Debaene, Far Afield: French Anthropology Between Science and Literature, 2014

Week 10: Science as a Field


  • Pierre Bourdieu, Homo Academicus, 1984
  • Pierre Bourdieu, Science de la science et réflexivité, 2001 [excerpts will be translated in English by the TA]

Week 11: The Scientist as a ‘public intellectual’


  • Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Corporatism of the Universal: The Role of Intellectuals in the Modern World.” Telos 1989, 81 (1989): 99–110.
  • Charles Kurzman  and  Lynn  Owens,  “The  Sociology  of  Intellectuals”, Annual Review of Sociology, 2002, 28. 63-90.
  • Gil Eyal and Larissa Buchholz, “From the Sociology of Intellectuals to the Sociology of Interventions,” Annual Review of Sociology 36 (2010): 117–137.
  • Corey Robin, “How Intellectuals Create a Public,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 22, 2016

Week 12: Conclusion