In the mirror

Today we had another installation of our course in Technology, science and culture, where we go through the different chapters of the recent third edition of The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Always interesting discussions going on there, with a critical eye on the texts we read.

You can only see the front here, but it's a <em>thick</em> bastard

You can only see the front here, but it's a thick bastard

During the presentations today I got to thinking about the STS field and its connection to other fields of study. We were discussing a text complaining about the lack of focus in STS on pedagogical methods and tools in the transfer of STS related knowledge to new students of the field. Since my master’s degree is in educational sociology, I feel I have some experience with both discussions of pedagogy and the problematic of interdisciplinary field identity: are they a discipline in their own right, or simply a field of study where different disciplines co-exist? Regarding the field of educational study, I would say they are definitely a field and not a discipline. There is very little independent theory and conceptual development to defend calling it a discipline in it’s own right, although this is not for lack of trying. It simply does not stick.

When it comes to STS, I’m more unsure. They certainly have a stronger claim to being a discipline than educational studies, with a mature set of theoretical concepts and methodological approaches. On the other hand, I feel I recognize a lot of the concepts from other fields, and I don’t think I’m the only one (Nora brought up the sociology of knowledge today, for example). The whole Handbook, which I’m guessing should be read as a sort of summing up of where the current debates stand and a presentation of the tools of analysis and methodology available to the student of Science and Technology, is very introvert, focusing mainly on debating how STS can become a discipline in its own right.

Reflexivity is both a sign of a mature discipline and a strategy of making it so. Several of the articles engage in what to me seems like pure conceptual imperialism, exporting STS concepts to other fields of study. This is both to show that STS concepts are robust and have application in many fields, but also to fortify positions. This can be good or bad. On the one hand, using new theoretical concepts on old themes can create new connections and new knowledge. Conceptual innovation and interdisciplinarity may not be an end in itself, but it is at least a useful tool to both examine one’s own field critically and maybe gaining increased communication. On the other hand, there is a worrying tendency where more and more disciplines are being splintered into ever more specialized fields of study, each with their own language and approach to problems that in many cases are overlapping. This makes interdisciplinarity harder, as translating between adjacent fields takes up more time and energy. We’ll have to see where this ends.

Many here at the institute and other places are currently working a lot on exactly these problems of the production of knowledge and interdisciplinarity. One recent example is the book Vitenskap som dialog, edited by people at ITK. The book is very good, accessible and interesting throughout. I’m sure there will be many interesting contributions to these debates in the time coming, although I can’t free myself from the nagging feeling that it’s a little close to staring into out own navels.

Whew, long post there. Here is some relief, a guy singing all 64 voices of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In my next Serious Post, I’ll go all Foucault on your asses.


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