Forty years ago Thomas Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), was published. Few books create such a profound impression, especially in their authors' lifetimes. It is difficult now to think of an academic discipline, whether in the natural or in the social sciences, that has not been touched by it from history and philosophy to sociology and theology (Hollinger, 1973). Some of its concepts and insights - the notion of a 'paradigm' for example, or the contrast between 'normal' and "revolutionary" science - have passed into the language of academic discourse, and now colour and shape the way in which scholars think and talk about their specialisms (Perry, 1977).
Although such discussions among each of the fields are interesting in their own right, the debate amongst the sociologist is of principal concern here. There have been numerous attempts to employ Kuhn’s scheme of scientific structure to analyse the development of sociology and the hope here is to distinguish how useful - in light of some of these attempts - Kuhn’s ideas are here.
Before describing and investigating Kuhn’s conception of paradigmatic science, it would be helpful to briefly set the scene in a wider context by looking at pre-paradigmatic thought; science without any governing paradigm. The main theorists of this era included Rudolph Carnap, Karl Popper, Carl Hempel and Imre Lakatos. These philosophers while not in complete agreement, did hold one common ground, in that they were old rationalists (Pannenberg, 1973); that their central task was to indicate what scientific rationality consisted of and describe how scientists ought to make inferences from evidence or to choose between competing hypothesis.
These old rationalists assumed not only that they could give an account of scientific rationality, but also that such an account could make clear the actual progress of science. They were impressed by the success of science and r...