Conceptual and social transformations of disciplines

This axis concerns major changes in the epistemology and the practices of scientific disciplines. Combining historical, philosophical and sociological aproaches, CIRST is undertaking a number of investigations on the transformation of primary cognitive activities such as classification and modeling and will do so in a ‘naturalist’ spirit where only the natural world is taken to be real. The studies will take the form of a comparative history and epistemology of various disciplines ranging from physics and biology to the humanities and social sciences. Cuurent projects illuminate the specific epistemological challenges of various disciplines and allow us to reformulate the conceptualization of actions that are at the core of scientific activity : classifying, modeling, explaining and naturalizing. These projects present knowledge not only as the product of closed and well-established disciplines, but also as the result of cross-sectional mutations that transform scientific disciplines in depth.


Major research themes.


 The analysis of classification in scientific practice. Classification is an act that is at once common and complex. Interweaving epistemology and practice, it leads to the emergence of categories that are often accepted, rightly or wrongly, as natural species for both academic and socio-political purposes.

5.1.1 The broad spectrum of the disciplines studied at CIRST from the perspective of classification practices runs through chemistry and ethology and on to ecology, biology and virology. It includes current reflections on the limits and multiple definitions of life. This range allows us to compare various classifications, their synchronic links, their evolution and migration from one science to another and will enable us to stimulate wide-ranging and fundamental thinking on classification in science.

5.1.2 The migration of scientific classifications into the arena of public decision-making public. This includes classifications of the categories of social action stemming from statistics and sociology as well as downstream results such as the practical benefits derived from the various definitions and classifications of biodiversity and clinical and diagnostic typologies.

Researchers: F. Bouchard, F. Claveau, A. Corriveau-Dussault, G. Dufour, L. Faucher, R. Gagnon, Y. Gingras, V. Guillin, C. Malaterre, P.-O. Méthot, J.-G. Prévost


The mounting recourse to modeling, now supported by the spread of digital technologies and the use of “big data”, is a phenomenon whose impacts, both epistemic and social, are of significant concern.

5.2.1    The epistemic impact modeling can be viewed as part of the accelerated mathematization of disciplines such as the economy, but will also be examined from a more general vantage point insofar as it participates in the problem of formulating a typology of the epistemic contributions of models, and in the critical reflection on the obsolescence, legitimate or not, of models of explanation and problematization in sectors such as the life sciences, physics, mathematics and ethnology.

5.2.2    The socioprofessional impacts of modeling on the practice and the organization of science, modeling as an expression of increased disciplinary closure, the formation of hierarchies organized around new modes of aggregation and interpretation of data.

Researchers: C. Bonneau, F. Claveau, T. Düppe, Y. Gingras, L. Heaton, M. Kao, G. Latzko-Toth, R. Leonard, C. Malaterre, M. Marion


The evolution of scientific disciplines and their social and cognitive determinants from the 18th to the 21st century is a central theme in the history and philosophy of science (HPS). It deals with the interactions between specialities as well as the role of common problems that have had a transformative influence across the sciences. CIRST's approaches is characterized by the introduction of bibliometrics into HPS, a move which has aroused interest throughout the field and that has renewed the relationship between HPS and STS.

5.3.1    Theoretical and empirical problems that that have a cross-cutting impact on the evolution of science. From an historical perspective, this includes the impact of non-naturalist stances in metaphysics and religion on the constitution of disciplines (such as psychology and cosmology) and on scientific autonomy and the effect of epistemic requirements imposed by paradigm shifts in science. This component also raises contemporary and wide-ranging issues such as the development of the concepts of ‘quality’ or ‘evidence’.

5.3.2    The process of specialization and interactions between specialties within the human sciences. CIRST approaches these problems in an innovative manner through the combination of bibliometric methods and the analysis of networks in the history and philosophy of science. This work will be conducted within the framework of large-scale projects on the intellectual structuring of the social sciences since 1945.

 Researchers: F. Claveau, Y. Gingras, M. Kao, V. Larivière, C. Leduc, M. Marion, J.-G. Prévost

Updated 15 February 2017 at 10 h 22 min.