In the sociology of knowledge, a controversy over the boundaries of autonomy inhibited analysis of any concept beyond relative autonomy, until a typology of autonomy was created and developed within science and technology studies. According to it, the institution of science's existing autonomy is “
reflexive autonomy”: actors and structures within the scientific field are able to translate or to reflect diverse themes presented by social and political fields, as well as influence them regarding the thematic choices on research projects.
Institutional autonomy is having the capacities as a legislator to be able to implant and pursue official goals. Autonomous institutions are responsible for finding sufficient resources or modifying their plans, programs, courses, responsibilities, and services accordingly. But in doing so, they must contend with any obstacles that can occur, such as social pressure against cut-backs or socioeconomic difficulties. From a legislator's point of view, to increase institutional autonomy, conditions of self-management and institutional self-governance must be put in place. An increase in leadership and a redistribution of decision-making responsibilities would be beneficial to the research of resources.
Institutional autonomy was often seen as a synonym for self-determination, and many governments feared that it would lead institutions to an irredentist or secessionist region. But autonomy should be seen as a solution to self-determination struggles. Self-determination is a movement toward independence, whereas autonomy is a way to accommodate the distinct regions/groups within a country. Institutional autonomy can diffuse conflicts regarding minorities and ethnic groups in a society. Allowing more autonomy to groups and institutions helps create diplomatic relationships between them and the central government.