Social and political factors in the development of toxicology

  • Anne-Marie Coles

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The aim of this thesis is to investigate some of the factors that influence and direct the development of science. It takes the case of toxicology and focuses specifically on the social and political factors that have shaped ots development to the present day. This is examined within a framework derived from some of the current issues pertinent to the sociology of science and science policy, which are particularly concerned with the role of external goals in the creation of scientific knowledge.

    The emergence of toxicology is explored from its origins as the study of gross poisoning.The popularity of using poisons as tools for murder and assassination is seen as presenting toxicology with its first social goal. Developments in experimental toxicology during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are investigated, as is its relationship to other emerging sciences at this time. Finally the emergence of the science in Britain since 1945 is explored, its institutionalisation and social and cognitive organisation are examined with particular emphasis on the commercial aspects of the science.

    The external goals for toxicology are defined in social and political terms, as the need to control human exposure to poisons, and the particular regulations that exist to control the availablility of toxic substances has moved from being backward looking, controlling known gross poisons, to incorporating a requirement for a predictive evaluation of new chemicals before marketing.

    In this context the interaction of science and policy is investigated, focusing on two aspects in particular. These are the scientific committees which have been established to advise government departments on questions relating to toxicology, and the different guidelines that have been produced to aid the safety evaluation of new chemicals. It is concluded from the research findings that social and political factors have had an important influence on the direction and development of toxicology as it is found in Britain today. They have directed both the social structure of the science, and the type of knowledge that it generates.

    Date of Award1983
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorH. Fred Steward (Supervisor)


    • policy
    • sociology
    • toxicology
    • hazards
    • science

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