Research Committees


Published in ISA RC23 newsletter, August 2017
Written by Nadia Asheulova
RC23 President 2014-2018



The International Sociological Association is fifty years of age.
This is both very young and quite old.
It is surely time to take stock, but we can also say that
there is a future that remains to be constructed.

Immanuel Wallerstein

The International Sociological Association (ISA) originated in 1948 as an initiative of the Social Science Department (SSD) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This initiative resulted in the ISA and similar worldwide associations in other social science disciplines (economics, law, and political science). Jennifer Platt notes in her book “A Brief History of the ISA: 1948-1997”
that this initiative was dictated by the political situation after the Second World War [Platt, 1998, p. 13]. These professional associations were not simply expected to encourage intellectual and cultural exchange, but also to promote democracy and serve broad social objectives:

to knit together social science scholars of the world... with the expectation that this will increase international understanding...
to raise the level of social science research in the belief that greater knowledge in these fields will benefit mankind... to promote research in fields crucial to the establishment of a peaceful world order...

[Angell, 1950, p. 282].

The SSD first considered setting up the ISA at a meeting in Paris held on October 14, 1948. The discussion focused on:

promotion of sociology as science and action (the encouragement in all countries of sociological study, teaching and research, with emphasis upon the scientific character and practical contribution of sociology); international research (encouragement of cross-national work and the creation of instruments suitable for comparative studies); exchange of information (summaries of international trends, an information bulletin, an abtracting service, a centre of primary documentation, the distribution of microfilms of important source materials, and the encouragement of translation) and personal contact (including international meetings, the exchange of teachers and students, and support for research outside the researcher’s country)

[Platt, 1998, p. 14].

In furtherance of these goals, the decision was made to hold a “constituent congress”. The first such congress was held in September 1949. The Research Committee on Sociology of Science (RC23) was founded at the VI World Congress in Evian (France) in 1966, a story captured in the ISA Bulletin 29:

There was a very lovely successful discussion among R. Aron (France), B. Barber (USA), J. Ben-David (Israel), I. Dubska (Czechoslovakia), S. Dedijer (Sweden), D. Goldschmidt (FRG), R. K. Merton (USA), A. Podgorecki (Poland), J. J. Salomon (France), A. Szalai (Hungary), E. Walter (Switzerland), Anatoly Alekseevich Zvorykin (USSR) and others

[ISA Bulletin 29, p. 8].

Robert K. Merton was elected President of RC23 and Joseph Ben-David became the first Secretary. There is an interesting document at the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences – a transcript of the meeting’s report of the VI International Congress of Sociology in Evian made by Anatoly Alekseevich Zvorykin. A. A. Zvorykin said:

...I think that the foundation of the Research Committee on Sociology of Science was a very important initiative. The Committee filled the essential gap, which was still in the International Sociological Association. Committee was created by the leadership of R. K. Merton...

[Transcript, Archive of the RAS].

Four years later (September, 1970), the VII World Congress was held in Varna. The scientific program of the Committee included 3 academic sessions. Among them was one section devoted to the institutionalization of science and another to science policy. Researchers from 10 countries took part in an active discussion. The USA was the leader in the number of speakers. They presented 11 papers, the USSR – 4, Bulgaria – 3, England – 3, France – 2, GDR – 1, Germany – 1, Hungary – 1, Israel – 1, Poland – 1. Members of the Committee re-elected Robert K. Merton for a second term as President and Albert L. Mok (Netherlands) became the Secretary. Meetings of sociologists of science were held not only during the World Congresses, but in between as well. An international conference under the aegis of the British Sociological Association was organized by RC23 Secretary Albert L. Mok at the City University of London, Great Britain, September 11-15, 1972. 32 members of RC23 from 13 countries came to the UK to advance our understanding of the sociology of science. 30 scientific papers were presented in seven sessions devoted to the following topics: Macro Theories of Science; Studies of Scientific Communities; Metaphysics and the Study of Science; Criticism of the Positivistic Conception of Science; The Science of Science: Studies of Research Areas; Science in Society; Institutional Developments in Science.

The conference resulted in the publication of book Social Processes of Scientific Development edited by Richard Whitley [Whitley, 1974]. Many papers of this work are highly cited to this day. The book presents papers on the structure of scientific discipline (Stuart S. Blume and Ruth Sinclair), on science of science as a new research field its function in prediction (Janos Farkas), on the elements from the debate on science in society: a study of Joseph Ben-David’s theory (Thorvald Gran), on mono-and polyparadigmatic developments in natural and social sciences (Cornelis J. Lammers ), on the societal influences on the choice of research topics of biologists (Albert Mok and Anne Westerdiep), on the development of sociology in the Netherlands: a network analysis of the editorial board of the Sociologische Gids (Wouter van Rossum,) on the cognitive and social institutionalization of scientific specialties and research areas (Richard Whitley). As Diane Grane noted in her review of this book, the interest in the sociology of science has increased considerably in Europe, particularly in England. European sociologists of science had been developing a new orientation toward the field described by Richard Whitley: The sociology of science (concerns) itself with the content of a science, the different models of development in different sciences, and the connections between scientific developments and cultural and institutional factors [Crane, 1976, p.138].

Another RC23 sponsored meeting took place six months later (April 10-13, 1973) in Warsaw, organized by Zdislav Kowalewski with the active support of the Polish Academy of Sciences. In 1974, RC23 met in Toronto at the VIII World Congress of ISA and elected a new Board: President Joseph Ben-David (Israel), Vice-President Gennady Dobrov (USSR), and Secretary Peter Weingart (FRG). RC23 continued to actively cooperate with professional associations and societies. A joint meeting was held with the newly formed Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) on November 4-6, 1976 in Ithaca, New York. Devoted to a comparative review of empirical research in the sociology of science, this milestone conference, at which Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar first met each other leading to their influential collaboration Laboratory Life, was supported by a special grant to RC23 from the Research Coordinating Committee of the ISA. Interested individuals can find a copy of the original program online at:

On September 7-9, 1977 the Institute of Sociology and the Research Group of Science Organization of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences organized a conference in Budapest. 38 foreign and 30 Hungarian researchers took part in it. Janos Farkas edited the Proceedings of that conference: J. Farkas (ed.) Sociology of Science and Research. Papers of the International Sociology of Science Conference in Budapest, September 7-9, 1977. Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1979.

The activities of RC23 continued during the IX World Congress (August 1978, Uppsala). In addition to sessions on Historical Sociology of Science, Science and Ethics, Sociological Analysis of Scientific Knowledge, Science and Politics, and Research on Research; RC23 organized a joint session with RC33 on the Logic and Methodology of Sociology. Key members of the new board elected in Uppsala were Peter Weingart (President), Michael Mulkay (Vice-President), and Jerry Gaston (Secretary). RC23’s collaborative efforts (this time with PAREX, the European network of Science Studies Research Groups) continued on September 26-28, 1980 RC23 with the joint organization of a bi-annual meeting in Deutschlandsberg near Graz, Austria. It was at this meeting that the decision was made to establish the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST).

In 1993 the Research Committee on Sociology of Science of the International Sociological Association was renamed as the Research Committee on Sociology of Science and Technology. The history of RC23 is very rich by scientific events and surely demands to study further. The archive of the International Sociological Association is located at the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), where there are the correspondence, programs of events, meetings reports, publications and so on [Archive of ISA].

Correspondence between the first president (R.K. Merton) and other members of the board is located at the Archival Collections of the Columbia University Libraries [Archival Collection]. In addition, this is a good opportunity to collect interviews with the former RC23 board members and other well-known researchers involved with RC23 in the past. A new section of the RC23 Newsletter, “Remembrances”, was introduced and will be used to preserve the memories and traditions of RC23 and create a sense of shared culture and tradition among us. Remembrances will take a variety of forms: reflections, historical documents, some remembrances from former RC23 presidents or board members, etc.

In 2016 (as part of the jubilee year for RC23) the Executive Committee of the International Sociological Association approved the RC23 award in honor to the first president R. K. Merton: “The Robert Merton Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Sociology of Science and Technology”. The award will be granted every four years to a living scholar who is internationally recognized for significant contributions to the
sociology of science and technology that have been made over a period of at least two decades

The half-century of activity by the RC23 is undoubtedly of great interest to all members of the science and technology studies community and will be studied further.


1. Angell, R. E. UNESCO and Social Science Research // American Sociological Review 15: 282-7, 1950
2. Archival Collections of the Columbia University Libraries URL: http://findingaids.
3. Archive of the International Sociological Association at the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) URL: Record/ARCH00648
4. Crane, Diana. Review on Social Processes of Scientific Development by Richard Whitley // Theory and Society. Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring, 1976). Pp. 138-141
5. ISA Bulletin 29, Summer, 1982 URL:
6. Platt, Jennifer. History of ISA: 1948-1997. ISA, 1998.
7. Whitley, Richard (ed.) Social Processes of Scientific Development, Routledge, 1974
8. Transcript of the meeting of the VI International Congress of Sociology in Evian (France) in 1966. The Institute of Philosophy. Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences. F. 1922. Op. 1. D. 1163. L. 162–165, 168–170