Assessing Daniel Bell’s Forecast: Big Science and the Post-Industrial Society

By Andrew Domondon.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Sociologist Daniel Bell is famous for forecasting that industrial societies will be replaced by what he calls post-industrial societies. He argued that these two societies have different modes of thinking and invented his own terms, “economizing mode” and “sociologizing mode”, to describe the type of thinking characteristic of each society. The former mode is associated with industrial societies and characterized by an emphasis on economic goals, such as efficiency and profit. The latter mode is associated with post-industrial societies and characterized by an emphasis on what he considers non-economic goals, such as national security and environmental safety. Bell notes that the shift toward the post-industrial society is driven by science and technology. Since a defining characteristic of science is the continual pursuit of new knowledge and it is technology that stems from such knowledge that propels the shift to the sociologizing mode, Bell should be viewed as suggesting that this shift possesses a unidirectional character. Moreover, Bell suggested that this shift could be seen in the United States government’s funding of large-scale science projects that are often referred to as “Big Science”. He suggests that these projects typically have goals characteristic of the sociologizing mode and that the government’s decision to fund the Manhattan Project may viewed as marking the beginning of the shift toward mode. Drawing on Bell’s identification of Big Science as a sociologizing enterprise, I examine the trajectory of Big Science in the United States from World War II to present, especially the federal and public support for it, and argue that it has not shown a general shift toward the sociologizing mode. On the contrary, I suggest that on a first approximation United States’ science policy during this period may be viewed as oscillating between periods in which sociologizing considerations were dominant and those in which economizing ones were dominant. I stress, however, that this oscillatory picture must be regarded as a first approximation. Finally, I show that the contrasting fates of the Human Genome Project and the Superconducting Supercollider suggest that the distinction between the two modes has collapsed and that future support for Big Science will depend on how well its proponents link sociologizing considerations to economizing ones in selling their projects.

Keywords: Big Science, Daniel Bell, Post-industrial Society

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.117-128. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 240.536KB).

Andrew Domondon

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan

Andrew Domondon is an Assistant Professor and Assistant Director of the International Center for Science and Engineering Programs (ICSEP) in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. He teaches courses in physics, logic, history of philosophy, philosophy of science, and history of science.