Habitus and Utopia in Science: Bourdieu, Mannheim, and the Role of Specialties in the Scientific Field

Richard M. Simon


Abstract: Pierre Bourdieu has claimed that his concept of the habitus resolves the objectivism/constructivism debate in the sociology of science. While institutional norms require that scientists maintain a disinterested attitude, studies have revealed that scientists often fail to live up to the normative standard of disinterestedness, sometimes becoming highly tendentious to promote their own work. Bourdieu resolves the interested/disinterested paradox by claiming that scientists promote their own personal interests through objective science. This is supposed to be the consequence of the scientific habitus, which ensures that the biases of the scientific field remain invisible to scientists who operate within it. The concept of the habitus is central to Bourdieu’s theory of science. However, it has suffered from two major shortcomings: 1) the scientific field is made up of clusters of specializations which are shaped by interactions with each other, and the habitus does not account for these mesolevel interactions; 2) it can only account for reproduction of the scientific field and therefore ignores the mechanisms which produce change. I argue that Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge may be employed to better understand how the properties of scientific specialties both reproduce interested and disinterested behavior among scientists and facilitate change in particular specialty areas.
Key words: Pierre Bourdieu; Karl Mannheim; Habitus; Utopia; Field Theory; Specialization; Constructivism; Objectivism; Scientific Change


Pierre Bourdieu; Karl Mannheim; Habitus; Utopia; Field Theory; Specialization; Constructivism; Objectivism; Scientific Change

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/j.sss.1923018420110201.004


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