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Harwood, Jonathan. (1986) Review: Ludwik Fleck and the Sociology of Knowledge. Social Studies of Science 16 (1), 173-187.

Title Review: Ludwik Fleck and the Sociology of Knowledge
Resource Type journal article
Author(s) Jonathan Harwood
Year 1986
Journal Social Studies of Science
Volume 16
Number 1
Pages 173-187


In 1935 a Polish physician named Ludwik Fleck published a monograph in German entitled Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. Although it addressed central issues in the philosophy of science, the book made virtually no impact. Most of the reviews it received appeared in medical journals or popular magazines. After the war it languished in obscurity, despite Kuhn's passing reference to it in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, until a German scholar rediscovered it in the early 1970s.

Recently, however, Fleck's work has been granted much more attention. In 1979 an English translation of his book was published, quickly followed by a reissue of the German edition, a dissertation on his life and work, a collection of his essays on sociology of knowledge, and a conference devoted to him. The explanation for this sudden interest is clear: Fleck anticipated fifty years ago many of the current arguments for a sociology of scientific knowledge, arguments which in Anglo-Saxon (and quite possibly German) scholarship have been derived largely from Kuhn.

In an essay of this scope it is impossible to do expository justice to the works under review. I will, therefore, draw upon these works in order to venture a judgement of Fleck's significance. My question is: how are we to welcome this prescient latecomer? Is he largely of historical interest? Or is his writing still of heuristic value for the sociology of knowledge?