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Barnes worked at the 'Science Studies Unit' at the University of Edinburgh with David Bloor from the 1970s through the early 1990s, where they developed the strong programme in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge. He moved to the sociology department in Exeter in 1992. Barnes is known for regarding science as one form of culture among the variety of cultures in the human lifeworld and as defending a relativist approach to knowledge and science. This view was elaborated in his book: Scientific Knowledge and Sociological Theory (1974).