Sociology Index

PARADIGM

Paradigm is a framework used in thinking about and organizing an understanding of natural or social phenomena. Society and the individuals within them, tend to have relatively fixed assumptions about how to understand and interpret the world, but there is great variation in these assumptions from place to place and from time to time.

For many centuries, for example, natural phenomena like the eclipse of the sun, thunder, lightning or flood were explained within a paradigm of religious belief and myth, today they fall within the paradigm of science. As sets of assumptions change over time this process can be referred to as a paradigm shift: there emerges a new way of looking at the world.

The term paradigm came into social science vocabulary from the writings of Thomas Kuhn (1970), a historian of science. He challenged the conventional wisdom of history that claimed that science was a long, slow process of building on previous knowledge. Thomas Kuhn argued that the history of science can be seen as a history of dominant paradigms and paradigm shifts.

A paradigm in his presentation was a set of assumptions about the kinds of questions to ask in science and how to go about looking for answers. As a particular body of knowledge builds up there are a growing number of anomalies which can only be forced with difficulty into the dominant theory.

At some point people begin to see things differently and to ask different questions in an attempt to explain their observations and they eventually arrive at a new theory which is a better way to account for the anomalies.

Paradigm Case: a case or instance to be regarded as representative or typical.