IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The essential tension in the social sciences: Between the “unification” and “fragmentation” trap


  • Christian Knudsen


A new framework is presented that suggests that scientific progress requires a balance between exploitation of existing research programs (normal science) and exploration of new research programs (revolutionary science) Too much pluralism can be as destructive for scientific progress as too little pluralism. In order to make progress in an intellectual field one need to uphold what Thomas Kuhn described as an essential tension between tradition and innovation. In the framework presented here, this implies balancing on a knife-edge trying to avoid falling into either a “fragmentation trap” or a “unification trap”. The “fragmentation trap” is a self-reinforcing process where the exploration of new theories completely comes to dominate the exploitation of existing research programs, while the “unification trap” is a self-reinforcing process where the exploitation of an existing research program completely comes to dominate the exploration of new research programs. A number of strategies for avoiding both the “fragmentation trap” and the “unification trap” are presented and discussed in relationship to management studies and economics, respectively. The framework is finally used to discuss the type of traps that faces different social sciences and the way they are organized as discussed by Richard Whitley in his comparative analysis of intellectual fields.

Suggested Citation

  • Christian Knudsen, "undated". "The essential tension in the social sciences: Between the “unification” and “fragmentation” trap," IVS/CBS Working Papers 2002-06, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy, Copenhagen Business School.
  • Handle: RePEc:ivs:iivswp:02-06

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • B40 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - General

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ivs:iivswp:02-06. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (J. Petur Joensen). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.