in: Poetics, Vol. 40, Issue 2, April 2012, co-authored with Monika Krause, pdf
The discussion in the sociology of science about the role of model systems in biology provides an invitation to reflect on whether and how they operate in sociology in comparison to other disciplines. This paper shows that sociology too relies on objects of study that receive a disproportionate amount of attention and implicitly come to stand in for a specific class of objects. But, unlike other disciplines, sociology has no agreed language or theory to classify the discipline-specific objects that it studies, which hinders explicit reflection on the use of model systems across sociological subfields. The subfield of sociological theory uses model systems, but its specimens are not sociological objects. In contrast to other disciplines, which use model systems, specimens of sociological model systems usually do not travel. Because of this, the relationship between specimen and epistemic object is less standardised in sociology than in other disciplines. Sociology also encounters unique problems of access to model systems.