The epistemological break

The epistemological break is that process ensuring that explanations scientist gives to social phenomena he studies are scientific explanations. This means not only adopting scientific language (they could be put in a scientific terminology not being scientific explanations, because they do not adopt criteria in which all scientific explanation must be based), but also being based on the criteria under which a scientific explanation must be build (in a scientific explanation the phenomena must be explained causally and in depth, i.e. final causes alone do not explain them, but they need to be explained in a procedural way: it is especially important to consider the root causes, but also it is noting the link between root and final causes, that is the process going from causes to effects).

The concept of epistemological break comes from the tradition of French philosophy of science which was practiced during the first half of the twentieth century at the Collége de France. Its cultivators were philosophers as Canguilhem, Bachelard, Koyre, etc. The term seems to refer to an aptitude which all those engaged in the profession of scientist have. It also seems to suggest that this competence is achieved through the training that enables for the profession of scientist. The term “epistemological” would seem to be related to those two factors. Moreover, the fact that they use the term “break” seems to imply that it is a finite process: a rupture or a break is something that is done once and for all without interruption. And what is more important, the term “break” gives the impression that it is a process that someone makes in a consciously planned way.

On the contrary, the epistemological break is far from being a technical, non continuous and consciously planned process. The epistemological break is essentially a social process and as any social process is characterized by the social conditions in which it takes place, determining its effect and efficiency. Obviously, the social conditions that are at the origin of the break are neither established nor chosen by the person, since he finds them already made and these are the basis that will determine the success of the epistemological break affected. Thus, the epistemological break is actually a rupture, characterized by their duration in time and their infiniteness, with certain ways of seeing the world and the social groups that are their spokesmen. As you can see, epistemological ruptures are also social ruptures starting long before the person affected is conscious of their action, and therefore, he has little power to act on them, neither he can accelerate them nor increase their effects. Moreover, the individual affected will do everything possible in order for the rupture does not happen, as they are often traumatic ruptures. They can mean breaking with the primary groups (family, friends) and the native places (places we were born). Usually behind epistemological breaks of the generations of young scientists there are often processes of upward mobility performed by the children of working classes (in urban social contexts) or by the children of farming families in rural contexts involved in processes of farming crisis, or maybe by second-generation immigrants. That is, they are usually performed by people who are in no man’s land and which, previously, before becoming scientists capable of thinking on the counter, had been questioned by the reality itself, not having any other choice but to learn to question this reality questioning its own existence. This is the social structure determining the efficacy, the effect, and the intensity of the epistemological break induced. Are these the social conditions required leading to the success of an epistemological break, as is shown in books as Sketch for a Self-Analysis by Pierre Bourdieu, a prime example of the process followed by an episteomological break.