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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–14, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author welcomes e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 12 June, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2004–14


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Kuhn's paradigmatic model

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The paradigmatic model of the production of scientific knowledge derives from the work of Thomas Kuhn. It has had a substantial impact on the sociology of knowledge and the philosophy of science, and the term paradigm has been incorporated into social science and philosophy extensively since its re-emergence in Kuhn's work, particularly his Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962b). This widespread adoption makes the analysis of the concept important for any metascientific endeavour. However, despite the frequent references to Kuhn's usage, much of the adoption of the term, particularly in sociology, is a far cry from Kuhn's concept. The reference to 'paradigm' in the literature is, therefore, confusing and the usage in this account will be made clear. In the main, such usage will revert to Kuhn's own usage, rather than adaptations of it, although this is no easy matter as Kuhn shifted his position on what he labelled a paradigm.

Kuhn's model evolves from a critique of Popperian falsificationism. It has very strong conventionalist elements, but emphasises the developmental nature of the progress of science. Kuhn prefaced the exposition of his model in his discussion of the Copernican Revolution (Kuhn, 1957a) and in his paper on dogma in science (Kuhn 1961a). In his Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Kuhn, 1962b) he expounded the basic principles of his thesis of the production of scientific knowledge. His subsequent contributions to the sociology and philosophy of knowledge have largely been amendments of this position in response to critiques. His 'replies' are contained in his two contributions to Lakatos and Musgrave (1970), the Appendix to the second edition of Structures of Scientific Revolutions (Kuhn 1970) and his 'Second Thoughts' (Kuhn 19--).

Kuhn's objections to Popperian falsificationism

Kuhn (1970) summarises his objections to the Popperian position in his first contribution to Lakatos and Musgrave (1970), pointing out that they do have certain areas of agreement. They are, he maintains, both concerned with the logical structure of the products of scientific research and with the concurrence between history of science and theories of scientific development. Kuhn suggests too, that both he and Popper are opposed to the empiricism of classical positivism and disavow inductivism. Further, he argues that both he and Popper reject the idea that science progresses through accretion in a simple cumulative manner. Rather, Kuhn maintains, they both emphasise the revolutionary character of such 'progress', in which an older theory is rejected and replaced by an incompatible new one. Fundamental to this is the failure of the older theory to meet challenges posed by logic, experiment and observation.

However, that still allows for substantial disagreements and these result in Kuhn rejecting falsificationism. Kuhn considers that Popper has characterised science in terms that apply only to its revolutionary moments; that Popper has ignored 'normal' science. By concentrating on overthrows of theory, Popper has misconstrued the usual practice of science. He ignores the normal puzzle solving, which of necessity accepts the theory (or theories) as 'raison d'etre' for the puzzle. Contingent upon this is the process of growing crisis that sparks off the revolution in thought. Popper ignores this too, regarding the context of discovery as the province of psychologism. Furthermore, Kuhn argues, it is 'normal science' that 'most clearly distinguishes science from other enterprises' rather than the occasional extraordinary scientific exploits, which of necessity involve a return to philosophical debate.

Kuhn also rejects the whole notion of testability. He considers that science does not 'progress' through the testing and disposal of theories, which is so central to Popper's falsificationism thesis.

Fundamentally, Kuhn raises the old problem of the theory base of observation and suggests that, although Popper does not admit conclusive disproof of theories through observation, his adherence to his falsificationist position (however sophisticated it may appear) is still essentially naive because he fails to confront the problems of the theory laden nature of observation. To devise 'tests' of a theory, Kuhn points out, would require going beyond that theory in order to conceptualise such tests. It requires a theory beyond a theory to frame hypotheses and tests of the original theory. To simply test from within is to develop the puzzles of 'normal' science (which may be resolved from within the prevailing theoretical context, or 'paradigm' as Kuhn calls it, or be added to the list of anomalies). The framing of real tests, (i.e. ones going beyond the theoretical framework) requires a psychological shift, or gestalt switch on the part of the scientist. It requires a new way of seeing. Such shifts are traumatic and not part of 'normal' science. Science does not progress through constant tests of theory, rather through an accumulation of anomalies as the result of normal puzzle solving activities of scientists.

Popper demands that science is marked by the falsifiability of its theories. Thus Popper would argue that astrology is not scientific because the predictions are too vague and ambiguous and do not constitute testable assertions. Kuhn points out, however, that astrology has had spectacular failures, and the possibility of such failures were never discounted. Historically, astronomy has not been untestable, nor was astrology's explanation of failure 'unscientific' (e.g., inexact information leading to faulty prediction). But, says Kuhn, astrology was not a science, it was a craft. Like pre-nineteenth century medicine and current psychoanalysis it had a shared theory but one adequate only to establish plausibility and a rationale for the various craft rules. However, 'neither the astrologer nor the doctor could do research. Though they had rules to apply, they had no puzzles to solve and therefore no science to practice.' (Kuhn, 1965, p. 10).

Kuhn maintained that this failure of Popper's to recognise the prominence of 'normal' science is reflected in the failure of the falsificationist model to account for the fact that some theories were rejected before they were 'tested'. Kuhn cites, for example, the Ptolemaic system of astronomy.

'Though the theories Sir Karl cites had not been put to the test before their displacement, none of these were replaced before it had ceased adequately to support a puzzle solving tradition.... With or without tests, a puzzle solving tradition can prepare the way for its own displacement. To rely on testing as the mark of a science is to miss what scientists mostly do and with it, the most characteristic features of the exercise.' (Kuhn, 1965, p. 10).

The 'original' Kuhnian model as presented in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Kuhn, 1962b)

Introductory outline

What Kuhn provides is a model of the mechanism by which science 'progresses'. The developmental process of the production of scientific knowledge is set out by Kuhn in 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions' but is ostensibly no more than a mechanism, it provides little insight into the processes that prompt the mechanism into action. Kuhn support of his mechanism is historistic, comprising of nothing more than selected 'historical cases'. In that sense Kuhn goes no further than the falsificationist who selects 'crucial experiments'.

Kuhn's thesis is applicable to all 'materialist' knowledge and also provides clues for an analysis of the social context of scientific development and the process of discovery. (See Brannigan (1981), who argues that Kuhn's model is limited in these respects.) Nonetheless, and Brannigan apart, Kuhn's model is restricted by his model which is constrained by his positing a community of scientists that accept knowledge by consensus.

Kuhn's model is one which presupposes that science 'grows' through shifts in the basic conceptions operated by the scientific community. This shift comes about as a result of the inability of the prevailing conceptualisation to deal with anomalies. Such shifts are relatively rare and constitute revolutions in theory. Such revolutions embody a fundamental shift of ideas and are not evident in the usual practice of science. The prevailing conceptualisation of science (or of a scientific discipline) within which scientists operate in order to elaborate problems, Kuhn calls a 'paradigm'. The work done by scientists within a paradigm is 'normal science' which, inevitably, will produce anomalies, which ultimately demand attention by way of the construction of new theories. This, effectively, requires a new conceptualisation of the subject, i.e. a 'revolutionary paradigm shift'. The sequence of events in science, according to the mechanism proposed by Kuhn is from a pre-paradigmatic (or non-scientific stage) to the emergence of a paradigm which marks the beginning of the scientific stage of the subject as it allows for 'normal' scientific work to progress. This work leads to anomalies, to adjustments to theories within a particular paradigmatic conception, then ultimately to irresolvable anomalies and 'ad hoc' amendments leading to a 'crisis' in the paradigm. A revolution takes place and a new paradigm replaces the old one. The new paradigm is characterised, eventually, by its ability to explain all that the paradigm could, plus some of the anomalies. This is Kuhn's conception of 'progress' in science. The new paradigm embodies totally new theories and is quite incommensurable with the previous paradigm. The work of normal science, then, is to develop, articulate and specify the theory or theories embodied in the new paradigm. Once again anomalies will appear leading to a further crisis and again, eventually, a paradigmatic shift. Thus the cycle goes on indefinitely.

In order to assess the nature of Kuhn's thesis more closely it is necessary to investigate his key concepts; paradigm, normal science, anomaly, crisis and revolutionary paradigmatic shift. These are considered below. Following this review, critiques of Kuhn's position will be considered and the amendment to his views outlined in his later work analysed. A reassessment of Kuhnian paradigms and the paradigmatic thesis of the production of scientific knowledge will conclude this part.

Kuhnian paradigms
The term 'paradigm' as used by Kuhn is somewhat vague and can be seen to have several meanings. In the original outline of his theory he failed to provide and adhere to a rigorous definition of paradigm. The result has been that paradigm has been a somewhat nebulous concept. The confusion about Kuhnian paradigms is heightened by three groups of usage and/or interpretation of the idea. First is Kuhn's own usage. Second is the usage ascribed to him by his critics in the philosophy of science. Third is the usage of the term by a wider academic community which is predicated upon a Kuhnian interpretation but which ignores much of the theoretical implication of the Kuhnian thesis, particularly the role of 'paradigm' as a metascientific device. Sociology has been a major interpreter of the term and sociologists have been among the major distorters of the concept. The concept of paradigm is central to Kuhn's thesis about the growth and development of science. It provides a framework for understanding the nature of change and stasis in science. It embodies certain fundamental views of science and scientific development crucial to the model of change advanced by Kuhn. Yet, despite, or because of its centrality Kuhn tends to be less precise about it.

Kuhn regards a paradigm as a framework which constrains scientific activity. It embodies a subliminal metaphysical core which is quite incontrovertible but which is rarely explicit. It is so much taken for granted that it is inconceivable that it be challenged, indeed, such challenge would involve philosophic speculation well beyond the normal reflective activity of the practicing scientist. This 'normal' activity relates to how the scientist is expected to pursue his or her work and present it for judgement and acclaim by peers. A paradigm contains theories that need refining. This is what the scientist does most of the time. It may lead to the restructuring of a theory and frequently to a readjustment of the theory but it does not lead to the guiding principles of scientific work embodied in the paradigm being challenged. These guiding principles are not only 'metaphysical' constraints (of a Duhemian nature) but reflect the established and accepted practice of doing science and the admissibility of evidence; particularly the prescription not to pursue idle speculation tangential to well corroborated theories. There is no code of practice, as such, nor any list of immutable propositions, but the scientific community lays down its principles through its pedagogic function, by its very transmission of scientific knowledge. Its emphasis on exemplary theories and processes, its reification of certain 'affirmative' experiments, of the experimental method and of particular rules of reasoning, are central to the establishment of paradigm principles through pedagogy. This is reinforced by the exposure given to scientific work through professional journals. The credibility of such journals resides in the way they reflect the 'serious' pursuits of science. They are, therefore, essentially conservative and reinforce incontrovertible paradigm principles. As such, then, a paradigm is a set of guiding principles constraining scientific work. A paradigm thus provides a framework and plenty of scope within which to pursue the 'normal' practice of science.

Kuhn tends to view these guiding principles in two ways. First, in a metaphysical sense, second in an exemplary sense. The metaphysical sense of paradigm involves a view that the scientist working within a taken-for-granted context, one in which certain principles of science and aspects of the discipline in which the scientist is located are unquestioningly self evident. The second sense, that of exemplar, effectively makes the paradigm empirically determinable. It gives the practicing scientist a means by which to grasp the paradigm and a directive by which to develop it. The grasp of the paradigm comes initially through the paradigmatic exemplar as pedagogic aid. In the same way that a child grasps the essential nature of colour through intuitive appreciation of, for example, the 'blueness' of a succession of blue objects, so, it is argued, the scientist intuitively appreciates the essential nature of a scientific paradigm through exposure to exemplary work, for example, key experiments or approaches that are indicative of the metaphysic of the paradigm. This pedagogic function fades into a directive function as the model approach becomes either developed or replicated in terms of unexplored facets of the paradigm. Thus the knowledge within a paradigm is extended, more and more puzzles are solved and science grinds on in its 'normal' everyday activity.

Effectively, this metaphysical aspect creates necessary, but artificial, barriers around scientific knowledge. The necessity lies in making scientific knowledge directive and apprehensible. The artificiality lies in the necessary arbitrariness of the metaphysic, one dependent upon a given socio-historic moment. Inevitably the paradigm is limited. The development of work based on the exemplars of the paradigm leads to anomalies and finally crisis in the paradigm. This crisis which usually emerges slowly gradually amounts to a crisis of confidence for some of the practicing scientists who 'defect' to a new paradigm, as and when it emerges. Thus scientific change comes when normal science is unable to contain the anomalies and runs into a period of crisis. The paradigm shift, being a metaphysical shift is incontrovertible. Paradigms are incommensurable metaphysical edifices and scientists experience a 'conversion' similar to a 'one way Gestalt switch'. Being a shift of metaphysic the conversion is not dependent on logic or empirical validation but is the result of persuasion. Progress in science thus appears to be irrational. Progress then, comes about as a result of the shift from one period of normal science to the next, it is therefore expedient to investigate another aspect of Kuhn's model, the complement of 'paradigm shift' namely 'normal science'.

The nature of normal science
The principle pursuit of scientists, according to Kuhn, is that of puzzle solving, of working out the details of theories within a paradigm. It is this 'mop up' work that occupies the attention of scientists. Thus, Kuhn writes,

normal science is the actualisation achieved by extending the knowledge of these facts that the paradigm displays as particularly revealing, by increasing the extent of the match between those facts and the paradigms predictions and by further articulation of the paradigm itself. (Kuhn, 1970, p. 24)

As such, normal science seems to be an attempt to 'force nature into a preformed and relatively inflexible box' which is supplied by the paradigm.

No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all. Nor do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and they are often intolerant of those invented by others. Instead, normal-scientific research is directed to the articulation of these phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies. (Kuhn, 1970, p. 24).

According to Kuhn, normal science works on three kinds of 'facts'. The first type of work is the designation of significant facts, that is, the specification of particulars within a class of facts (such as boiling points, specific gravities, etc.). The second type of work is the matching of facts with theory, the actual solution of paradigmatic problems, such as the validation of Einstein's theory through observation of the perihelion of Mercury. The third type of work involves the articulation of theory, determining ambiguous aspects of theory such as the the calculation of constants (e.g., the rate of gravitational acceleration).

Kuhn argues that normal science proceeds by solving problems generated from within the paradigm of the types outlined above. Such normal science takes hold of the theory embodied in a paradigm and develops it as anomalies appear. Such anomalies in themselves do not lead to a rejection of the paradigm, rather they lead to a refinement of the the theories within a paradigm. The process of theory refinement involves an ever increasing complication of theory and (usually) increasing internal contradiction. However, the paradigm persists, its fundamentals unchallenged, until such time as crisis is resolved in a revolutionary shift. Such shifts, for Kuhn, are rare. Thus the paradigmatic nature of science seems to inhibit progress rather than reflect the 'mythology' of science marching continuously towards some 'true' or 'absolute' understanding of the world. Kuhn argues that far from inhibiting the development of scientific knowledge the paradigmatic nature of science is essential. Normal science, through its adherence to a paradigm, is able to confront the puzzles and problems of the observed world. Rather than debate the philosophical underpinnings of observation, the acceptance of a paradigm provides an agreed theoretical basis for observation, and hence a platform from which to work. The acceptance of a paradigm permits in depth study which would not be possible without it. Such study provides a detailed examination of the paradigm conceptualisation which permits it to be legitimately overthrown (as it fails to provide satisfactory explanations) in favour of successive conceptualisations. Normal science, Kuhn suggests,

poses a built in mechanism that ensures the relaxation of the restrictions that bound research wherever the paradigm from which they derive ceases to function effectively. At that point scientists begin to believe differently, and the nature of their research problems changes. In the interim however, during the period when the paradigm is successful, the profession will have solved problems that its members could scarcely have imagined and would never have undertaken without commitment to the paradigm. And at least part of the achievement always proves to be permanent. (Kuhn, 1970, pp. 24–25).

It is, according to Kuhn, the paradigm adherence to normal science which distinguishes scientific from non-scientific activity. Without it, practitioners cannot escape philosophical debate and are unable to undertake the work of puzzle solving.

The nature and function of anomalies in the Kuhnian model

An anomaly to a Kuhnian is an 'observational' result that the theory (or theories) within a paradigm is unable to account for but which has been produced within the paradigm. The anomaly appears as a result of 'pushing the paradigm too far'. However, contrary to the falsificationist view, the anomaly is not a rebuttal of theory but a curio, on its own it will have little effect, except annoyance value. The perihelion of Mercury was anomalous to Newtonian physics for eighty five years and did not, in itself, result in the overthrow of Newton's theories. anomalies are shelved or reconstituted (into something the paradigm 'understands'). The 'normal' scientist, fascinated by an anomaly will work on corroborating or discorroborating the evidence; design new technology to check anomalous 'observations' and attempt to develop theories to account for persistent anomalies, usually through ad hoc adjustments or auxiliary hypotheses.

Only as anomalies begin to accrue, do they have an effect. As more anomalous observations become 'well corroborated'; as ad hoc adjustments and auxiliary hypotheses begin to contradict one another; as theories become self-contradictory in order to account for anomalies without transcending the paradigm, then the scientist, and the scientific community as a whole has to rethink the guiding principles of the paradigm. The piling up of anomalies (and Kuhn implies that this is an exponential development) causes a kind of anomie amongst scientists practicing within a particular paradigm. In short a 'crisis' has been reached and a resolution is needed. The resolution is a new paradigm containing theories which explain all that the previous paradigm did, plus some of the anomalies.

Kuhn describes the process of the emergence and recognition of anomalies as one whereby an anomaly becomes recognised as such by a wider and wider section of the scientific community as more anomalies begin to emerge. In effect, anomalies, he suggests, remain as curios and are ignored until such time as a 'crisis' begins to build. As confidence starts to dissolve, as more and more scientists begin to question the basic assumptions of the paradigm and are less able to find suitable niches for curios, then anomalies become recognised as such rather than blemishes which may be painted over. Slowly the anomaly (or anomalies) shift from the periphery of concern of the scientific community to the centre of the stage. Eventually the resolution of anomalies becomes the subject matter of the discipline. The scientist working in the area no longer sees the field of study in quite the same light as it had once appeared.

'Part of its different appearance results simply from the new fixation point of scientific scrutiny. An even more important source of change is the divergent nature of the numerous partial solutions that concerted attention to the problem has made available. The early attacks upon the resistant problem will have followed the paradigm rules quite closely. But with continuing resistance, more and more of the attacks upon it will have involved some minor or not so minor articulation of the paradigm, no two of them quite alike, each partially successful, but none sufficiently so to be accepted as paradigm by the group. Through this proliferation of divergent articulations (more and more frequently they will come to be described as AD HOC adjustments), the rules of normal science become increasingly blurred. Though there is still a paradigm, few practitioners prove to be entirely agreed about what it is. Even formerly standard solutions of solved problems are called in question.' (Kuhn, 1970, pp. 82–83).

Crisis and revolution in Kuhnian Paradigms

When does the accumulation of anomalies within a paradigm reach crisis proportions? The answer to this is indeterminate, but no shift in perspective is possible until a new theory emerges. The Kuhnian model suggests that new theories emerge as a function of the 'anomie' felt within a paradigm. The viability of a new theory being dependent on it fulfilling the criteria required for a revolutionary shift, namely that it is progressive. The 'revolutionary paradigm shift' is, not a smooth adaptation of prior theories. A crisis is characterised by a disunity within the paradigm; by a large number of alternative theoretical conjectures, initially adjustments to established theory and subsequently attempts to reformulate a theory within a paradigm. The crisis, for a Kuhnian, may be thwarted at this stage, with no paradigm shift evidenced (or at least, no discernible shift manifested).

Yet, ultimately, the work within the paradigm will lead to a crisis that needs a revolutionary resolution and from it a single new paradigm will emerge. The theoretical speculation of the crisis era will return to debating philosophical problems, will appear, temporarily, not dissimilar from the pre-paradigmatic phase, and there will be no common ground for the comparison of theories.

What, historically, it has lead to, according to Kuhn is a time lag when a new paradigm runs parallel to another, older paradigm. The old one is surpassed and scientists defect gradually (not simultaneously) to the new ascendant paradigm. Some scientists never change to the new paradigm (e.g., Priestly held onto his view of phlogiston despite 'discovering' oxygen) but eventually these conservatives die out, and the new orthodoxy is taught

The old paradigm, when reviewed from the perspective of the new appears as a ludicrous anachronism. The old paradigm thus fades out. The new one, after a period of time, is established as the set of principles for the scientist (within a given area of science). The revolutionary paradigmatic shift has taken place and 'normal science' ensues once again.

Criticisms of Kuhn's thesis


Criticisms of Kuhn's thesis have been of two sorts, sympathetic criticism seeking clarity and fundamental conceptual critique from proponents of alternative, mainly Popperian, models. The latter attacks have tended to be of two types, those based on clear disagreement with Kuhn's views and those based on a misreading of Kuhn.

Sympathetic critiques and 'variations' on Kuhnís thesis.

There are innumerable commentaries on Kuhn's thesis from a large number of disciplines. These point to inconsistencies in his usage of terms and ambiguities in his thesis. There is confusion over what exactly is meant by 'paradigm', what its limits are, and whether all paradigms are of the magnitude of Einstein's Relativity Theory, Newtonian mechanics, the Chemical Revolution or Darwinian Evolutionism. One reviewer sympathetic to Kuhn, Masterman (1970), attempted to elucidate the nebulous nature of the Kuhnian concept of paradigm. She, like the current author, rejects the taken-for-granted interpretation of Kuhn's critics that paradigm is synonymous with either 'basic theory' or 'general metaphysical viewpoint'. It is, she argues, something quite different to either of these, it is both more all-embracing yet more directive. Paradigm embodies a conceptual framework. It is necessary to explicate the nature of this conceptualisation. Masterman attempts to do this through a detailed study of the usage of the term in Kuhn (1962b). She lists twenty two different senses in which Kuhn uses the term paradigm, and suggests that he may use it in even more ways than that. Using exegetical techniques, Masterman groups the varied senses into three distinct types. The first is the metaphysical paradigm (or metaparadigm) a philosophical notion that equates paradigm with a mythology, a set of beliefs, metaphysical speculation, ways of seeing, values and standards, in fact with a specification of a large area of 'reality'. Second, is the sociological paradigm, relating to achievements and structure of science and the protocol of scientific acceptability. Finally is the artefact paradigm (or construct paradigm) which pertains to the exemplary aspects of paradigm, or, as Masterman puts it, defines

paradigm in a more concrete way... as an actual text book or classic work, as supplying tools, as actual instrumentation; more linguistically as a grammatical paradigm, illustratively as an analogy; and more psychologically, as a gestalt-figure and as an anomalous pack of cards. (Masterman, 1970, p. 65).

Unfortunately, scholarly as this approach is, Masterman emerges with a rather limiting concept. Paradigm becomes nothing more than analogy at various levels, philosophical, disciplinary or exemplary. However, by relegating paradigms to the notion of analogy, the process of revolutionary shift is ignored. For analogy appertains to an established set of concepts imported from elsewhere, it does not raise the possibility of either synthetic or 'epochal' thought, let alone explain the processes that may lead to them and subsequent development and adaptations of the paradigm. The analogy translation is no more representative of Kuhn's concept than the 'basic theory' or 'general metaphysical viewpoint' translations. Masterman, one suspects, knows this but offers no more apt translation of the spirit of Kuhn's thesis.

Successful or otherwise, Masterman's analysis shows that Kuhn does tend to use the term paradigm in a variety of senses which fail to clarify just how wide a paradigm is. A particularly cogent analysis of this problem is provided by Martins (1972) who has no hesitation in proclaiming that

Paradigms are the 'universally recognised scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners' (Kuhn, 1962b, p x.) [and].... Paradigms pertain to fields like the study of heat, optics, mechanics, etc., there are not and cannot be paradigms of physics or chemistry. In other words paradigms are not discipline-wide but sub-disciplinary. (Martins, 1972, pp 15–19).

Whether this is how Martins reads Kuhn, how he reinterprets Kuhn's ambiguous usage in his (1962b) or how he considers the term should most properly be used is not clear. However, despite misuse of the concept by other social scientists, Martins reasserts the view that paradigm is sub-disciplinary.

Typical Kuhnian paradigms are not discipline-wide but confined to segments of disciplines. But none of the above-mentioned [sociological] perspectives is less than discipline-wide, as in the case of historical materialism, behaviouralism or action theory. The growth points of paradigmatic potentiality must therefore be in narrowly focused problem areas. (Martins, 1972, p. 54)

That sociologists have argued for a multitude of paradigms from structural functionalism to historical materialism is, for Martins, to have made a category mistake. This view of Kuhn's central construct restricts the metaphysics of paradigm. While a practitioner in a research area may be paradigm-bound, this paradigm is not necessarily the same as someone working in a different research area within the same discipline. There is no need, therefore, to posit a fundamental metaphysic which spans the entire discipline, or indeed across the whole of (natural) science. Martins argues this from the point of view of a critic assessing the relevance of paradigm for social science, and while a potential development of the Kuhnian thesis, is somewhat at variance with the Kuhnian concept. Kuhn certainly does not limit paradigm to sub-disciplinary paradigm, rather he talks, in effect, of two levels of paradigm, micro-paradigms and macro-paradigms. Micro-paradigm shifts occur in periods of crisis as a result of the suspension of some aspects of taken-for-granted background knowledge. Such shifts are changes OF theory rather than changes in theory. These changes of theory are the result of puzzle-solving. Such changes of theory have repercussions on the larger body of theory to which they are related, and to the epistemological underpinnings of the wider theoretical context (or macro-paradigm). Such micro-shifts are not 'normal' but are not infrequent. What is rare is the anomie that results as such micro-shifts pile up to cause a complete crisis of confidence in the entire background knowledge resulting in a major revolution in science of the magnitude, for example, of the Chemical Revolution.

A failure by Kuhn to clearly articulate this perspective has resulted in the ambiguity of his conceptual frame and the questioning about the scope of the concept 'paradigm'.

Popperian and Neo-Popperian objections to the Kuhnian model

The Popperian based opposition to Kuhn's model has concentrated on two key areas of his thesis. First, Kuhn's view of 'normal science', second his anti-rationalism or relativism.

Critique of Kuhn's view of normal science
Popper (1970) accepts that Kuhn has illuminated a distinction that he, Popper, had not fully distinguished, namely that between normal and revolutionary science. However, Popper considers the difference to be far less clear than Kuhn implies. Popper states that he does not like 'normal science', implying that Kuhn does because he refers to it as normal. That science should be reduced to technical puzzle solving is anathema to Popper who views science as 'revolution in permanence' and epitomised by 'bold conjecture and refutation'. To include a 'normal' view of science into this picture would be to undermine Popper's attribution of 'progress' to imaginative development and rational testing. Popper's scientists are all 'paradigm innovators' (to use Kuhnian terms). His scheme is merely normative if one posits a large proportion of scientists as conservative, stubbornly clinging to a framework from which, at best, they are 'converted' irrespective of the evidence of refuting logic.

The 'normal' scientist is, for Popper, a rather despicable creature (and therefore by implication an unimportant and unrepresentative member of the scientific community). 'Normal' science is uncritical science, the 'normal scientist' is one who accepts the 'ruling dogma' be it traditional views or a new fashion. The normal scientist practices 'majority' science, joins any bandwagon, takes the easiest option. Such a scientist is dogmatic and the victim of indoctrination. A user of available techniques but not a questioner of them. The best that can be said of such a practitioner is that he or she is an applied, rather than a pure scientist.

This distinction misses Kuhn's point. Rather than see the normal scientist as an uncritical applied scientist, Kuhn sees such a person as elaborator of a less than precise theory or series of theories, as a refiner of a paradigm and, as such, as a contributor to the next phase of scientific development, through eventual identification of anomalies.

Watkins (1970) attacks Kuhn's view of normal science because it marks the abandonment of critical discourse. Developing Popper's position, Watkins points to the emergence of science in Kuhn's thesis. The adoption of a single paradigm by a scientific discipline out of the proliferation of alternative pre-paradigm orientations leads to the development of normal science. Thus Watkins suggests that at the very point when a science has become established, when the transition of a discipline from non-science to science takes place, the crucial element of the work disappears. Watkins considers such a situation incompatible with any view of scientific progress. However, this ignores the fundamental epistemological shifts embodied in the development of paradigms.

The difference of view between Kuhn and the Popperians over the nature and role of normal science boils down to different views of theory and the testability of hypotheses. Popperians see theory as legitimate only in the sense of a self contained series of statements grounded in empirical reality which may be tested through the formulation and checking of hypotheses. The pure scientist works at the assessment of theories by such means and posits new theories when tested hypotheses disconfirm statements embodied within theories. The applied scientist simply uses these theories uncritically. Kuhn sees theories as located in a (metaphysical) paradigm which informs the theory and the way evidence is construed. Popperians, in short, ignore the theory laden nature of observation which undermines empirical testing (even, as has been shown above, in the case of sophisticated methodological falsificationism). There are no tests of a theory that conclusively lead to an abandonment of a theory or a change in theory that transcends the paradigm in which it is embedded. The so-called testing of the falsificationist is, for Kuhn, no more than articulation of the theory, in other words, puzzle solving. Popper's critique of theory is not a critical reflection that suspends prior ideas in a revolutionary manner. It is logically impossible to 'test' a theoretical scheme and 'refute' it through 'crucial' experimentation.

For Kuhn, the 'normal scientist' is not a Popperian applied scientist, rather he or she is the articulator of the paradigm. The puzzle solver is intrinsic to science whereas the 'revolutionary' is unusual, a product of a particular socio-historical moment. (See Brannigan (1981) for comment on Kuhn's view of the cultorological basis of discovery, this is explored further in part 4 below).

Feyerabend casts doubts on Kuhn's temporal separation of normal and revolutionary phases in science. He attacks the historical accuracy of Kuhn's model and through it some of the underlying features. Feyerabend reviews the assertions made in Kuhn's model. He notes that 'alternatives' are necessary if a theory is to be refuted; historically such alternatives have enlarged existing anomalies and have overthrown theories; anomalies exist at any point in the history of a paradigm. If, what Kuhn asserts is true, then why, asks Feyerabend, is there not a continuous proliferation of theories? How does normal science come into existence? Referring to the collapse of classical physics at the end of the nineteenth century, Feyerabend points out that three alternative incompatible paradigms existed and it was through their interaction that relativity theory emerged. On the one hand, Kuhn's model is unable to account for interactive paradigms (or even the emergence within 'normal' science of three such alternatives which are resolved by synthetic resolution. For Kuhn, the mechanical, phenomenological and electromagnetic paradigms that were resolved by relativity were all aspects of the prevailing Newtonian paradigm which provided the basis for 'normal science'). On the other hand, it demands a period of normalcy of relatively lengthy duration in which a given conceptualisation is worked through. Feyerabend, is unable to see how this is possible, given that changes in paradigms are prompted by alternative conceptualisations and that these are feasible at all times in the history of a paradigm. For Kuhn, the resolution of this problem lies in the concept of crisis. Feyerabend, however, while raising fundamental questions about the Kuhnian model retains some aspects of its central thesis of normal science when he suggest that most scientists do continue to practice science of the 'normal' Kuhnian type, i.e. solving puzzles, not only in the intervals between revolutions but also through the revolutions. Like Kuhn, Feyerabend suggests that only a 'proliferating minority' actually inaugurate and undertake revolutionary acts in science.

This paradigmatic characterisation of the development of scientific knowledge does raise, however, some fundamental questions about the emergence of new paradigms which the Kuhnian model needs to confront. How does a paradigm get invented ? How does it come to be accepted ? Why does ONE new conceptualisation emerge as the new paradigm ? Why does this new paradigm emerge in the form that it does ? These questions will be explored below as part of the assessment of the adequacy of the Kuhnian model.

Critiques of Kuhn's irrationality
Popper is clearly rankled by what he sees as the irrationalism of Kuhn's model. 'Kuhn seems to propose the thesis that the logic of science has little interest and no explanatory power for the historian of science'. (Popper, 1970, p. 55)

Popper contends that Kuhn uses the logic of historical relativism, which is opposed to Popper's own belief in 'absolute' or 'objective 'truth. Popper sees science as a search for theories with ever increasing truth content. (A stance which sets aside the theory laden nature of observation). Popper considers that Kuhn ignores progress in any sense and merely views science a a set of prevailing dogmas, which attract adherents through conversion.

Lakatos takes up this Popperian critique by comparing the principles of Kuhn's paradigmatic analysis with falsificationism. Popper, Lakatos argues, was, for example, aware of the implications of the collapse of Newton's theory, the best corroborated theory of all time. Popper's recipe is one of refutation and conjecture and so it is repugnant for him to be committed to a position. One may have to overcome belief in ones critical approach. One should not, as a scientist, be entrenched in a position. Science is, for Popper, a rational (or at least rationally re-constructible) activity. Popper, as has been suggested above is concerned with the logic of discovery while Kuhn, on the other hand, sees change as mystical or irrational, a psychological conversion from one paradigm to another. Lakatos is primarily concerned that

'Kuhn, having recognised the failure both of justificationism and falsificationism in providing accounts of scientific growth, seems now to fall back on irrationalism.' (Lakatos, 1970, p. 93).

Kuhn's replies to his critics and development of his model
Kuhn emphasises the 'scientific community' or sociological element in the defence and development of his model. He considers that his original model underdeveloped the social interactive aspect of science, and a concentration on this element helps overcome one empirical objection raised generally against his account, namely, the implied congruence of scientific communities with subject matter. Kuhn wished to clarify this position by, effectively, reversing this conception. He suggests that scientific communities exist at various levels, from science to speciality, and that paradigms are shared by members of such communities. In short, that paradigms are community based. This leads directly to a reconsideration of another criticism, that of the confusion generated by Kuhn's loose usage of the notion of scientific revolution, With paradigms clarified as community based, then revolutions can be effective on a small scale and be frequent rather than limited to major shifts such as Einstein's revolution. However small scale shifts still constitute revolutionary rather than cumulative change within groups.

In answer to the accusation of the confused usage of the term paradigm, Kuhn agrees that he has been less than precise. However, he distinguishes two fundamental uses, those of 'constellation of beliefs, values etc.', and those of 'exemplar'. He suggests the term 'disciplinary matrix' to stand for the former meaning of paradigm, retaining the term 'paradigm' solely when 'exemplar' is meant. (Thus fitting the meanings more closely to accepted definitions). The dropping of the term 'paradigm' to stand for that meaning encompassed by 'disciplinary matrix' is not indicative of the dropping of the concept. On the contrary, Kuhn sees the notion of disciplinary matrix as integral to his model and has suggested that term as preferable to 'theory' or 'theoretical orientation' precisely because such terms tend to be too narrow in meaning. The disciplinary matrix consists of the symbolic generalisations used by the community, the metaphysical presuppositions, the group values and the exemplars of practice (i.e.the 'paradigm examples, in the new restricted sense of the term).

The paradigm, (i.e. exemplar) Kuhn argues is important because it is through exemplars that the group 'experiences the paradigm' (i.e. disciplinary matrix). The exemplar cements the community together. Kuhn maintains that the disciplinary matrix is 'natural' to scientists in the sense that scientists 'grow into' or 'uncritically absorb' the disciplinary matrix as intrinsic to scientific endeavour. The disciplinary matrix is taken-for-granted, while providing a framework for seeing it is effectively invisible to the scientist who operated within it. The wider the disciplinary matrix the more difficult it is to see.

Kuhn thereby reaffirmed his incommensurability thesis and disputes the value of proof other than among scientists sharing a paradigm. This does not mean that the choice of paradigm is independent of reason, but that such reasons are subjective rather than objective.

Kuhn defends the accusation of relativism or irrationalism by pointing to the nature of paradigms and paradigm shifts. He reasserts that the conversion process (the 'gestalt switch') remains central to the revolutionary process. He argues that as observation is theory laden (and therefore paradigm bound) choice between paradigms cannot be established logically through the medium of empirical proof. This does not mean that scientists act irrationally. there are 'good' subjective reasons for choice, among them, simplicity, aesthetics, clarity and other Duhemian conventionalist strategies, and these provide motives for conversion and a climate in which it is more likely to occur.

A reconstruction of the paradigm concept

The various meanings of paradigm, both by Kuhn and by utilisers of his concept need to be clarified if an unambiguous analysis of Kuhn's model is to be attempted. Furthermore, in assessing 'sociological models' which infer a Kuhnian perspective it is crucial that a standard categorisation of 'paradigm' is established. Thus the following five categories of 'paradigm' are proposed.

1. Paradigm (Kuhn's disciplinary matrix)

2. Exemplar

3. Paradigm contender

4. Sub-paradigm

5. Pseudo-paradigm.

Paradigm is reserved for the notion of constellation of beliefs which Kuhn has relabelled 'disciplinary matrix'. Exemplar is what Kuhn has come to call paradigm exemplar (or just paradigm). Paradigm contender is one perspective, not fully articulated and as yet failing to exhibit normal scientific practice, which is competing with others in a pre-paradigmatic field. Paradigm contenders do not exhibit the monopolistic characteristics of paradigms. The extent to which they are incommensurable is difficult to assess as metaphysical/epistemological correlates of pre-paradigm theories are ambiguous. Sub-paradigm is used in Martins' sense or the reconstructed sense of micro-paradigm from Kuhn's own usage. It amounts to a theoretical orientation at a sub-discipline level which has common epistemological tenets with that of a wider discipline. Thus revolutions at the sub-paradigm level do not in themselves fundamentally undermine the 'metaphysic' of the overarching paradigm. Pseudo-paradigm is an all-embracing term for uses of 'paradigm' which do not fit any of the above. It is therefore a usage which transcends the incommensurability and monopolistic tenets of a Kuhnian paradigm model. In effect it is a usage primarily espoused by social sciences, notably in the context of discussions of multi-paradigmaticity. In short it is a concept superimposed on the philosophy of science by practitioners anxious to show that social science is characterised by multiple-paradigms rather than as a group of disciplines in a pre-paradigmatic stage, as Kuhn argues. Pseudo-paradigms are of various sorts, schematically they fall into three groups. First, research programmes, (these will be explored in more depth below). Second, theoretical orientations, relabelled paradigms and usually 'established' in order to facilitate a classificatory scheme. (See for example, Ritzer, 1978). Third, wide epistemological frameworks unattached to any particular community.

Return to Social Research Glossary:Paradigm at

related areas

See also


methodology of scientific research programmes



Brannigan, A., 1981, The Social Basis of Scientific Discoveries, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Kuhn, T.S., 1957, The Copernican Revolution, Boston, Harvard University Press.

Kuhn, T.S., 1961a, 'The function of dogma in scientific research', in Crombie, A. (Ed.), 1963, Scientific Change, pp. 347–69, London: Heinemann.

Kuhn, T.S., 1962b Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Kuhn, T. S., 1969, 'Reflections On My Critics', in Lakatos, I. and Musgrave, A. (Eds.)., 1970, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 231Ė78

Kuhn, T. S., 1970, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Second Edition, with Appendix), Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Lakatos and Musgrave (1970), the Appendix to the second edition of Structures of Scientific Revolutions (Kuhn 1970) and his 'Second Thoughts' (Kuhn 19--).

Lakatos, I., 1970, 'Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes', in Lakatos, I. and Musgrave, A. (Eds.)., 1970, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 315–417.

Martins, H., 1972, 'The Kuhnian Revolution and its Implications for Sociology', in Nossiter, J. (Ed.), 1972, Imagination and Precision in the Social Sciences.

Masterman, M., 1970 [1965], 'The Nature of a Paradigm', in Lakatos, I. and Musgrave, A., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Proceedings of the 1965 International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, pp. 59–90, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Popper, K.R., 1979, 'Normal science and its dangers', pp. 51–58 in Lakatos, I. and Musgrave, A. (Eds.)., 1970, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 51ff.

Ritzer, G., 1978, 'The paradigmatic status of the sociological study of the professions', ISA (Newsletter of ISA Research Committee).

Watkins, J.W.M., 1970, 'Against 'Normal Science'' in Lakatos, I. and Musgrave, A. (Eds.)., 1970, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, chapter 2.

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