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 his naturalistic approach to science, a view elaborated in his book Scientific Knowledge and Sociological Theory (1974). He advocated a post-Kuhnian approach to scientific knowledge, and suggested that philosophers, historians and other researchers study scientific practice in a variety of fields as cultural traditions whose development could be given causal explanations. In this view conceptual change in normal science is a process unfolding through expert debate and negotiation. This latter perspective was developed in T. S. Kuhn and Social Science (1982).