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Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge

Robert K. Merton
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 78, No. 1, Varieties of Political Expression in Sociology (Jul., 1972), pp. 9-47
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2776569
Page Count: 39
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Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge
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Abstract

The social relevance of perspective established in the sociology of knowledge becomes evident during times of great social change and conflict. Conflict makes for a total functionalizing of thought which is interpreted only in terms of its alleged social, economic, political, or psychological sources and functions. Deepened social conflict today renews the relevance of an old problem in the sociology of knowledge: socially patterned differentials in access to new knowledge. As groups and collectivities become more self-conscious and solidary under conditions of social polarization, their members tend to claim unique or privileged access to certain kinds of knowledge. This can be described as the doctrine of the Insider, which includes the correlative claim that the Outsider has a structurally imposed incapacity for access to such knowledge. Outsider doctrine involves complementary claims of access to knowledge grounded on the assumption of socially based detachment. The rationale of the Insider doctrine is examined, with special references to the advocates of a "black social science," a case taken as prototypical for other Insider doctrines based on sex, age, religion, nationality, etc. Structural analysis in terms of status sets indicates that Insider and Outsider doctrines based on affiliation with a single collectivity or occupancy of a single status are necessarily unstable and inadequate. The paper concludes by examining the distinctive interactive roles of Insiders and Outsiders that involve interchange, tradeoffs, and syntheses in the formation of social knowledge.

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