As a concept, paradigm was introduced by the philosopher of science Kuhn in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where he uses ‘paradigm’ to refer to the preconceptions, accepted rules, and practices that govern what he calls ‘normal science’. The paradigm provides a framework within which the practice of scientific enquiry can take place, and within which an increasingly precise determination of a model of reality can be developed.
For Kuhn, the workings of ‘normal science’ can be broken down by ‘revolutions’, where a shift from one paradigm to another takes place, usually because of the accumulation of inconsistencies that necessitate a new model of reality; an example is the Copernican revolution, where a geocentric model of the solar system was replaced by a heliocentric one. While Kuhn’s severe distinction between ‘normal science’ and ‘scientific revolutions’ has been challenged and more gradualist approaches favoured, his notion of the paradigm has led to more sociological accounts of the production of knowledge across the arts, humanities, and social sciences. A similar term is Foucault’s ‘episteme’, which refers to the conditions of knowledge within a given culture at a given time.