While several “grand narratives” have been developed to account for the impact of scientific things on scientific practice, there is still very little methodological support for comparative analyses of scientific things. The goal of our article is to sketch the methodological challenges involved in comparatively analyzing scientific things and including their properties in middle-range theories of scientific practice. Methodological challenges arise from the necessity to use scientists' accounts of scientific things, the dilemma between depth and breadth of comparative case-study approaches, and from the necessity to compare accounts of scientific things to each other as well as to social conditions of research. Since the dominant approaches to the study of scientific things avoid the middle levels of abstraction, we suggest using an approach based on a theory of action. Two examples from a recent study of conditions for scientific innovations illustrate our approach to the comparative analysis of properties of scientific things.
Jochen Gläser and Grit Laudel
Stefan Böschen, Jochen Gläser, Martin Meister and Cornelius Schubert
Recent years have seen an increasing interest in materiality in social research. Some might say that materiality is now back on the agenda of social research. The challenges of bringing materiality back have spurred lively debates about material agency, most of which, however, are leveled at the largely dematerialized theories of the social in the social sciences, for example, in material culture studies (Appadurai 1986; Miller 1998) as well as science and technology studies (Latour 1988; Law/Mol 1995). Since the turn of the century, a marked shift towards the material has emerged (cf. Hicks 2010), ranging from questions concerning nature (Grundmann/Stehr 2000) and everyday objects (Molotch 2003; Costall/Dreier 2006; Miller 2010) to issues of cultural theory (Reckwitz 2002), post-phenomenology (Verbeek 2005), ethnography (Henare et al. 2007), distributed cognition (Hutchins 1995), and materiality in general (Dant 2005; Miller 2005; Knappett/Malafouris 2008). A perspective on materiality is now being developed in diverse fields such as archaeology (Meskell 2005), economic sociology (Pinch/Swedberg 2008), political science (Bennett 2010; Coole/Frost 2010), and organization studies (Carlile et al. 2013). Yet the status of the material remains debated in the evolving fields of various “new” materialisms (cf. Lemke 2015).