How do complex, socially embodied processes of cultural and scientific creation work? (I'm thinking of artistic traditions, scientific research communities, literary criticism schools, high-end culinary experts, and mental health professionals, for example.) This is a complex question, by design. It is a question about how a field of "cumulative" symbolic production moves forward and develops; so it is related to intellectual history, art history, and the philosophy of science. But it is also a question about the social embeddedness of creative work -- the idea that the practitioners of literary theory, political science, high-energy physics, biology, or international relations theory proceed within material and social conditions, institutions, and incentives and constraints that train, guide, and valorize practitioners.
One of these themes is that social knowledge practices are multiplex, composed of many different aspects, elements, and features, which may or may not work in concert. Surveying the broad terrain mapped across the different chapters, we see, for example, the transitory practices of a short-lived research consortium as well as knowledge practices that endure for generations across many disciplines and institutions... (kl 338)
At site after site, heterogeneous social knowledge practices occur in tandem, layered upon one another, looping around and through each another, interweaving and branching, sometimes pulling in the same directions, sometimes in contrary directions. (kl 353)
The social-embeddedness approach to thinking about science and culture is intended to situate a cultural or scientific activity within a set of social/intellectual relationships, with the background hypothesis that the activity develops as a result of the cognitive, symbolic, and material relationships that exist among its practitioners. These may include graduate curricula, laboratory procedures, journal publication policies, funding agencies, and the other social, political, and intellectual/institutional resources that exist within that community of practitioners.
Detailed studies in the sociology of science shed light on how this conception of scientific research and valuation takes place. Norwood Hanson's Patterns of Discovery (1958) was one of the earliest careful studies of a physics laboratory that demonstrated the impossibility of maintaining a rigid separation between observation and theory -- a key tenet of logical positivism. As such, Hanson's work represented one of the earliest contributions to post-positivist philosophy of science. Since then a large field of study has emerged that focuses on the details of research communities and laboratories. Paul Rabinow's Making PCR is a fascinating account of a biotech laboratory in which he documents the extensive interdependency that exists among research scientists, laboratory technicians, managers, research assistants, and others. Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar's Laboratory Life provides an ethnographic study of a biological research lab.
Pierre Bourdieu's concept of a "field" of cultural and intellectual activity (link) in The Field of Cultural Production falls in the broad category of the social-embeddedness approach to cultural and intellectual activities described here. The heart of Bourdieu's concept of "field" is "relationality" -- the idea that the participants in cultural production and their products are situated and constituted in terms of a number of processes and social realities. Cultural products and producers are located within "a space of positions and position-takings" (30) that constitute a set of objective relations.