This occasionally biographical paper deals with three cognitive and social patterns in the practice of science (not ' scientific method’). The first, “establishing the phenomenon,” involves the doctrine (universally accepted in the abstract) that phenomena should of course be shown to exist or to occur before one explains why they exist or how they come to be; sources of departure in practice from this seemingly self-evident principle are examined. One parochial case of such a departure is considered in detail. The second pattern is the particular form of ignorance described as “specified ignorance”: the express recognition of what is not yet known but needs to be known in order to lay the foundation for still more knowledge. The substantial role of this practice in the sciences is identified and the case of successive specification of ignorance in the evolving sociological theory of deviant behavior by four thought-collectives is sketched out. Reference is made to the virtual institutionalization of specified ignorance in some sciences and the question is raised whether scientific disciplines differ in the extent of routinely specifying ignorance and how this affects the growth of knowledge. The two patterns of scientific practice are linked to a third: the use of “strategic research materials (SRMs)” i.e. strategic research sites, objects, or events that exhibit the phenomena to be explained or interpreted to such advantage and in such accessible form that they enable the fruitful investigation of previously stubborn problems and the discovery of new problems for further inquiry. The development of biology is taken as a self-exemplifying case since it provides innumerable SRMs for the sociological study of the selection and consequences of SRMs in science. The differing role of SRMs in the natural sciences and in the is identified and several cases of strategic research sites and events in sociology, explored.

Keyword(s): Autobiography

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  • Article Type: Review Article
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