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Science Studies Unit

Members of the Science Studies Unit examine the social construction of scientific knowledge in a variety of historical, geographical, and disciplinary settings. Our links to one another are therefore those of method and approach grounded in the sociology of scientific knowledge. Through these links a diverse range of projects are brought together. We work to continue the Edinburgh tradition of examining the social causes for our scientific beliefs.

With alumni located all over the globe, we enjoy the benefits of wide collaborations. A long-standing research centre in the University, the group remains the home for the 'Edinburgh School' in the sociology of scientific knowledge.


The Science Studies Unit was founded in 1964 by the late David Edge (1932-2003), as an experimental venture, with the help of a generous grant from the Wolfson Foundation. The 'experimental' period was fixed at five years, and ended in March, 1971. Due to its clear success the University assumed full support of the unit. Originally part of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, the Science Studies Unit moved into the Faculty of Social Sciences in 1992, and has been part of the School of Social and Political Studies since its formation in 2001. It now stands as a core research group within the Science Technology and Innovation Subject Group.

David Edge recruited a team of young and energetic lecturers to form the Unit: Barry Barnes, David Bloor, and Gary Werskey.  Early research associates at the Unit included John Law, Margaret Deacon and Brian Wynne. Some members of the Science Studies Unit from the 1980s can be seen in the photograph. Back row, left to right: Mike Barfoot, Steven Shapin, Carole Tansley, Moyra Forrest, Andy Pickering, Dave Smith. Front row: David Bloor, David Edge, Barry Barnes, David Miller.

By 1971 there was also a small group of research students and a growing library. The Unit was soon joined by the historian Steven Shapin. Together, they developed the so-called "Strong Programme" in the sociology of scientific knowledge. This highly distinctive approach proved so radical and influential that it changed the social sciences, and its practitioners became known throughout the world as the "Edinburgh School".

The aim of the Unit, as originally formulated, was 'to focus attention, by teaching and research, on those areas where scientific activities overlap with more general concerns of human societies'. This aim has been interpreted very widely. The primary focus of the Unit's work has been on studies which enlarge our theoretical understanding of the social processes operating both within the scientific community, and in its relations with society at large. Such an understanding helps to expose the complexities of the political, ethical, and intellectual problems associated with the growth of science and technology in modern society. In its teaching, the Unit has devised courses on the elements of this social understanding of science and technology in contemporary and historical settings.

The Unit is now recognised as a centre of excellence for the study of the sociology, history, and philosophy of science, medicine and technology. Through numerous changes of personnel, the Unit has maintained the highest standards of excellence in teaching and research. Since its foundation, therefore, it has consistently proved to be an exemplary embodiment of the University's commitment to the benefits of interdisciplinarity in both education and research.  It has also upheld, and continues to pursue, the aims set out at its foundation.


Professor Emeritus David Bloor

David Bloor is one of the founding members of the Science Studies Unit. He is interested in all aspects of the sociology of scientific knowledge, and in the philosophy of Wittgenstein. He has just completed a history of aerodynamics and fluid dynamics, from the beginning of aviation through the period of WWI and up until around 1925. He is now embarking on research for a history of experimental psychology. He retired from the University at the end of 2007.

Professor John Henry

John Henry works on the history of science and medicine from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. He is particularly interested in the relationships of, and interactions between, science, medicine, magic, philosophy and religion in the Renaissance and early modern period.

Dr Lawrence Dritsas

Lawrence Dritsas is interested in the history and sociology of science in Africa. Within this large frame, he works on the history of scientific knowledge in relation to colonial empires; the links between science, technology and development practices and the history of scientific expeditions (particularly the exploration of Africa). A wider intellectual project cutting across these themes is his interest in uncovering the continuities and discontinuities between colonial and postcolonial scientific research in Africa.

Professor Steve Sturdy

In his research Steve Sturdy draws on insights from the sociology of scientific knowledge to investigate the interactions between medical science, medical practice and medical policy. Much of his work to date has focused on the role of the laboratory sciences in the reorganization of medical practice in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain, including recent research into the constitution of medical cases as objects of scientific knowledge. He is currently also co-investigator on an EC-funded project on Knowledge and Policy: Mental Health in Scotland. Other work under way examines the role of forensic DNA databases in the making of suspect identities.

Dr Pablo Schyfter

Pablo Schyfter works in the sociology and philosophy of technology, and in the sociology of knowledge. More specifically, he works with the Strong Programme in the sociology of knowledge and on the questions of ontology and intelligibility as they relate to technological artefacts, subjects, and bodies as positioned entities in social life. Currently, he is interested in age, ageing, and technology; sociophilosophical studies of science and technology; and phenomenology.