Philosophy of science

I just finished the last two-day session in my course in the philosophy of science. The course has been both interesting and frustrating at the same time. On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to ponder the greater questions, and get a peek at a different subject matter. On the other hand, it didn’t always feel so relevant. The course was very philosophy heavy, and I would have preferred more sociological perspectives, but I guess it’s impossible to please everyone. One of the linguists complained that he saw no practical use in the course at all, and we in the STS gang at least got some of our perspectives presented.

Some thoughts from the last two days, though:

1) I’m going to have to change my essay again. Out goes the historical perspective, in comes the theory. Which is good, because it felt forced. Now, to write the damn thing.

2) I have started reading my copy of The Foucault Reader, which had been gathering dust on my shelf for a while. Thank you, provocative and arrogant literature professor, for spurring me to delve into this matter again. I really have to see if he is as much of a power nihilist as you presented him.

3) My adviser represented the STS field, and maybe I’m thinking too much from within a doxa * (again: thank you, provocative and arrogant literature professor), but I keep hearing Bourdieu and his field theory in everything he says about the scientific community. Yet he’s a staunch Bourdieu opponent. I guess it’s because Bourdieu emphasises conflict, while Latour (the original STS guru) is more about communication. Must. Think. More. On. This.

* By the way, doxa is a crucial concept in Bourdieu’s field theory. I’m just saying…

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3 Responses

  1. Hehe, great. You actually took the advice of the (in my opinion wonderfully arrogant) literature professor seriously. “This is an invitation to you, and to Norwegian sociology departments to re-read certain passages of Foucault, and to read them better”. I sort of want to my self, but I don’t think it will actually happen..

    On point 3: agreed, and it is sort of strange. I remember Knut, as early as on my job interview warning me that if I was “one of those sociologists simply interested in reading Bourdieu and expanding on his theories” – I had not come to the right place. I’m not sure if the issue is conflict vs. communication, though – perhaps it has more to do with STS-scholars apparent dismissal of structural explanations to social questions in general? While Latour stresses the importance of action, Bourdieu could be seen as more concerned with the origins (in class or field or gender or whatever – depending on the book you read I guess..) of aggregated action. Not sure, though

  2. You’re right, wonderfully arrogant is an appropriate term.

    I think maybe I haven’t understood Latour and his network theory yet, but I sense a definite structural vein in a lot of it. I mean, the actant network may be aggregated action, but when Latour stresses scientific communication through four levels (within the specialist field, between related fields, out towards non-scientific experts, out to the general public), these levels sure sound like structure to me.

    And what about his focus on scientific text and citations? If the system of citing, archiving, quantifying and valuing scientific texts isn’t acknowledging some sort of structure, I don’t know.

    Of course it can be argued that there is no such thing as structure, and I think that would be correct in a sense, but a lot (most?) of the action going on is so entrenched in formalized patterns I find it easier to call it structure. Call me lazy, if you want…

  3. Structure or no structure might not be the question. Think Janus (cf Science in action): as outcome it is structure, as process it is not. But the Latour from Science in action is indeed much more of a structuralist as the one from Reassembling the Social. Interestingly this newer book resembles much more one of the earliest texts from Callon/Latour (1) than the earlier books.

    Being a sociologist by training myself I struggled quite a long time with the arrogant habitus of some STS figures: They are not adding to (social) science, they are not bowing to (hard) science, but they are reinventing science (at least Latour sometimes sounds like that). What the sociologist in me really did not like, however, was some of the political implications of this brave new STS.

    In the end, reading more John Law than Latour I guess I made my peace with the hand which feeds me. Have a look at (3).

    (1)
    Callon, Michel, and Bruno Latour. 1981. Unscrewing the big Leviathan: How actors macrostructure reality and sociologists help them to do so. In Advances in social theory and methodology: Towards an integration of micro- and macro-sociologies, Ed. Karin Knorr-Cetina and Aron V. Cicourel, 227-303, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

    (2)
    As discussed by Latour here:
    http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/issues/v30/30n2.Latour.html

    and by Law:
    http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/papers/law-networks-relations-cyborgs.pdf

    (3)
    http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/research/resalph.htm#lr

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