paradigm, paradigmatic
In ordinary speech the word paradigm designates a typical example or model to be replicated or followed. This connotation is carried over into the technical use of the term introduced by the philosopher and historian of science Thomas Kuhn, and thence into a wide range of sociological contexts. The term paradigm plays a key part in Kuhn's account of the practice which he calls ‘normal’ science. In ‘normal’ (that is non-revolutionary) periods in a science, there is a consensus across the relevant scientific community about the theoretical and methodological rules to be followed, the instruments to be used, the problems to be investigated, and the standards by which research is to be judged. This consensus derives from the adoption by the scientific community of some past scientific achievement as its model or paradigm. Scientific training in the discipline involves familiarization with this paradigm, or its textbook representations. To acquire the status of a paradigm, a scientific achievement must offer sufficiently convincing resolutions of previously recognized problems to attract the adherence of enough specialists to form the core of a new consensus. It must also have enough unresolved problems to provide the puzzles for subsequent research practice within the research tradition it comes to define.
The concept revolutionized thinking about the philosophy of science. Until the mid-twentieth century, at least in the English-speaking world, philosophy of science was conducted largely in abstraction from the history or social realities of scientific practice. Generally, an ideal-typical model of science (sometimes, as in the work of Sir Karl Popper, this was explicitly prescriptive) was subjected to philosophical analysis, and its key features commended as demarcation criteria separating science from pseudo-science, religious faith, speculative metaphysics , or other (usually less worthy) activities. Kuhn's major work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 1970), was one of the first successful attempts to pose philosophical questions about the nature of scientific knowledge by way of a serious conceptualization of the history of the sciences.
Kuhn's account challenges widespread assumptions about scientific progress as the piecemeal accumulation of knowledge, and about scientific rationality as a formal process of matching theory to evidence. His alternative vision is of a discontinuous history, in which periods of consensual normal science were interspersed with crises and intellectual revolutions, some of which called into question the most fundamental epistemological assumptions of science itself. Far from advancing in a cumulative, gradual way, revolutionary changes in science therefore involve abandonment of much previously accepted knowledge, and proceed by abrupt qualitative transitions of perspective. By contrast, normal science displays few of the features-bold conjecture, preparedness to abandon assumptions in the face of the evidence, and so on-widely attributed to scientists in Popperian and empiricist philosophies of science. Routine puzzle-solving in terms provided by a shared conventional paradigm is how Kuhn characterizes the great majority of scientific activity in non-revolutionary times.
The attention Kuhn gives to the role of the scientific community, its shared norms, its role in the resolution of periods of revolutionary crisis, the organization of scientific communication and education, as well as the recognition of extra-scientific pressures in the instigation of scientific revolutions, all ensured that his work would be influential amongst social scientists, well beyond the circles of philosophers and historians of science. In sociology, his work was of great importance in enabling sociology of knowledge to extend its scope to include the natural sciences. It was also important in discussions about the history and nature of sociology itself, and of the significance of a persisting lack of consensus around a single paradigm in sociology , and indeed the other social sciences . Was the persistence of rivalry between alternative perspectives evidence that sociology was still in its ‘pre-paradigmatic’ (that is, pre-scientific) stage; or, rather, did it suggest that the model of ‘scientific consensus’ was permanently unattainable, or inappropriate to sociology? Though Kuhn was himself a determined anti-relativist, many of his arguments pointed in a relativist direction, and his work was widely used by those whose main aim was to debunk the view of science as an especially authoritative form of knowledge. George Ritzer has suggested that sociology is a ‘multiple paradigm’ science (Sociology, 1975) and argued forcefully for more paradigmatic integration in the discipline (Toward an Integrated Sociological Paradigm, 1981).

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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