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Research Groups

Since in this book I am attempting to provide a social epistemology of research group collaboration, this chapter introduces research groups both as an empirical phenomenon and as an object of philosophical analysis. To do so, let me begin by saying what I mean by “research group." I use the term to refer to teams of closely collaborating scientists. Such teams are relatively stable and often embedded in the formal structures of research organizations, such as universities. Yet, group membership cannot always be clearly defined; nor is it stable. Also, research groups are by no means the only form of collectivity that research collaboration may rely upon. There are informal networks, academic friendships, authorship coalitions—and there are peer communities, the communities of scientific fields and disciplines.

In fact, notions of community have so far been the dominant analytic “lens" through which the collaborative character of much of scientific practice has been conceived of in philosophy of science. While notions of community have long had a strong foothold in philosophy of science, notions that attend to micro-structures of collaboration have

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 S. Wagenknecht, A Social Epistemology of Research Groups, New Directions in the Philosophy of Science,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-52410-2_2

not received much attention—an issue for which the interdisciplinary dynamics between philosophy of science and social studies of science can account. At the time when philosophy and history of science were open to incorporating influences from sociology, social studies of science were generally dominated by macro-sociological approaches (see, e.g., Merton, 1965; Zuckerman, 1967). As social studies of science later began to focus on micro-structures of scientific collaboration (Knorr-Cetina, 1981; Latour & Woolgar, 1979), the Science Wars and deep divides concerning the ways in which “the social" is seen to relate to “the epistemic" prevented the reception of sociological influences in the philosophical discourse (cf Wagenknecht et al., 2015, p. 5).

I will make a modest attempt to help mend this shortfall in interdisciplinary connect. For this reason, Sect. 2.1 characterizes the research group as a phenomenon of scientific collaboration by drawing extensively upon social-scientific research. Section 2.2, then, considers research groups as objects of philosophical analysis, introducing two analytic approaches to them and the scientific knowledge that they create. While the collectivist approach holds that such knowledge is to be analyzed as irreducibly collective, the individualist approach maintains that collaboratively created knowledge can be understood in terms ofindividually held knowledge. In this book, I base my investigations upon the individualist approach, and I will provide three reasons for doing so. Section 2.3 offers a concise orientation regarding philosophical accounts of interdisciplinarity, situating my concern for interdisciplinary research groups in ongoing discussions in philosophy of science.

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