The Robert K. Merton Center researches how science works. How is scientific knowledge produced and how is science embedded in social processes? On the one hand, the relation between science and society is characterized by society’s (naive) expectations of science, which it is often unable to meet. Science should be both autonomous and useful, it should reliably guarantee research quality, identify established knowledge as well as critically scrutinize it, and at the same time provide quick solutions to social problems in an open, integrative and participatory manner. On the other hand, society should be interested in science, bring in its relevance, sometimes participate, listen to it, trust it, let it do its own thing and still be critical. In today’s knowledge societies, these mutual expectations are high, sometimes contradictory and often even too high.

Science studies addresses this problem from various theoretical and methodological perspectives. It is concerned with practices, processes, discourses and actors that are relevant for the constitution and governance of science as well as for research and teaching. For example, structural changes in the science system and processes of external science policy control are examined to determine what effects they have on knowledge production, scientific cooperation and the transfer of knowledge to society. To this end, we integrate various methods ranging from bibliometrics and surveys to qualitative, text-analytical and ethnographic methods with approaches from the sociology of science, information science, science and technology studies (STS) and a broad spectrum of social theory.

An interdisciplinary perspective is not an end in itself, but a response to the multi-layered embedding of science in social expectations. The aim of multi-perspective science studies is not only to research science, but also to involve those researched in the knowledge process in a participatory manner. For this purpose, the RMZ also serves as a transdisciplinary platform that incorporates such participatory science studies into the design of research, teaching and knowledge transfer.

Such science studies not only aim to gain insights into the functioning of science, but also to help shape and critically accompany the relation between science and society. To this end, it provides critical reflexive capacities and communicates its findings to the public in order to bring them into play in social and science policy debates. Strengthening critical capacities in science and society can also mean uncovering contradictions, rejecting overly simple answers or creating irritation in order to initiate transformations.