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In science studies, boundary-work comprises instances in which boundaries, demarcations, or other divisions between fields of knowledge are created, advocated, attacked, or reinforced. Academic scholarship on boundary-work[which?] has emphasized that such delineations often have high stakes involved for the participants, and carries with it the implication that such boundaries are flexible and socially constructed.

The original use of the term "boundary-work" for these sorts of issues has been attributed to Thomas F. Gieryn,[1] a sociologist, who initially used it to discuss the problem of demarcation, the philosophical difficulty of coming up with a rigorous delineation between what is "science" and what is "non-science". He defined boundary-work as the "attribution of selected characteristics to [an] institution of science (i.e., to its practitioners, methods, stock of knowledge, values and work organization) for purposes of constructing a social boundary that distinguishes some intellectual activities as [outside that boundary]."[2] Philosophers and sociologists of science, such as Karl Popper and Robert K. Merton, long struggled to come up with a criterion which would distinguish science as unique from other knowledge-generating activities, but never were able to come up with one that was stable, transhistorical, or worked reliably.

Gieryn's 1983 paper on boundary-work and demarcation emphasized that the very discussions of demarcation between science and non-science were "ideological" — that there were strong stakes for scientists to erect such boundaries both in arguing for their own objectivity and the need for autonomy.[citation needed] Gieryn's paper looked specifically at instances of boundary-work in 19th-century Britain,[full citation needed] in which scientists attempted to characterize the relationship between religion and science as one of sharp distinction (many[who?] even argued that science would necessarily need to replace religion, as they were inevitably plotted against each other), and also looked at instances in which scientists attempted to argue that science and politics and/or ideology were inherently separate as well. Many other works[which?] by sociologists and historians have since looked at boundary-work in many other situations, usually focusing on the rhetoric of scientists (or their opponents) and their interpersonal and intersocial interactions.[citation needed]

Studies in boundary-work have also focused on how individual scientific disciplines are created (following the work of Pierre Bourdieu on the "scientific field"), and have also looked at ways in which certain "objects" are able to bridge the erected boundaries because they satisfy the needs of multiple social groups (boundary objects).


An example of such boundary-work can be found in the study of science and literature. One instance of these studies is Aldous Huxley's book Literature and Science (see also Edward M. Jennings's (Ed.)1970 Science and Literature: New Lenses for Criticism, Anchor Books and Harry Raphael Garvin and James M. Heath's Science and Literature, Bucknell University Press)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gieryn, Thomas F. (1999). Cultural Boundaries of Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-226-29262-2. 
  2. ^ Gieryn, Thomas (1983). "Boundary-work and the demarcation of science from non-science: Strains and interests in professional ideologies of scientists" (PDF). American Sociological Review. 48 (6): 781–795. doi:10.2307/2095325. 
  • Gieryn, Thomas F. (1983). "Boundary-work and the demarcation of science from non-science: strains and interests in professional ideologies of scientists". American Sociological Review. 48 (6): 781–795. doi:10.2307/2095325. 
  • ——— (1999). Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-29262-2. 
  • Lamont, Michèle; Molnar, Virag (2002). "The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciences". Annual Review of Sociology. 28: 167–195. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.141107.