The Science Studies Colloquium Series takes place every Monday of the quarter from 4:00p-5:30p in Room 3027, Humanities & Social Sciences Building, Muir College campus, unless noted otherwise.
A reception for the colloquium speaker takes place before the talk from 3:30p-4:00p in Room 3005, Humanities & Social Sciences Building.
SSP faculty and students only
Diane Vaughan has argued that organizations are a “black box” in STS, as dominant theoretical frameworks obviate organizations as an important level of analysis. As a consequence, the field has failed to develop a systematic theoretical understanding of how organizational structures and organizational cultures shape the development of certain social kinds. In this paper, I offer a preliminary sketch of a theory of organization for STS, modifying Tor Hernes' process theory of organization using contemporary sociological approaches that elaborate upon insights from American pragmatism. I offer this synthesis, a “pragmatic process theory of organization,” as a theoretical lens for analyzing the role organizations play in the emergence of technoscientific kinds. I apply this pragmatic process theory of organization to analyze the formation of translational research, showing how its emergence was indelibly shaped by the organizational apparatus of the National Cancer Institute.
Positivists make a sharp distinction between fact and value, and expose ideological claims that rest on political values disguised as scientific claims. The problem is not just that the values may be perverse but rather that key claims are taken to be immune to empirical evidence. The legacy is the view that genuine science is “value-free” and its results ought to be insulated from values.
Nonetheless, social values often motivate scientific research and determine the way we evaluate the usefulness of the results – such as the prevention of illness. My aim is to provide a framework for distinguishing circumstances in which social values corrupt scientific inquiry from cases in which inquiry is grounded by them. I develop a distinction between social and epistemic values – such as a theory’s predictive accuracy. I argue that the attainment of scientific knowledge depends on an appropriate relationship between social and epistemic values. I challenge the view that what makes knowledge “knowledge” is a function of “evidence alone,” or epistemic values.
I examine the role of social values in the science of the weather, a science of “stress” invoked by Air Traffic Controllers and the case of “Agent Orange” in the Vietnam War.
The Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition was one of the distinctive institutions of the Iberian World during the seventeenth century.
Inquisitorial activity affected both religious issues and scientific matters. Astrology was thus not studied and practiced in the same way in those territories where the Tribunal was active as in those where it was not. One may ask whether astrology declined faster or more drastically in Catholic countries where the Inquisition persecuted those who practiced judicial astrology and censored books on the subject. Until the end of the seventeenth century, astrology, which provided a general cosmological explanation and an interpretation of nature, belonged to the scholarly realm and to the set of subjects considered legitimate knowledge.
This paper aims to examine the actual attitude of the Spanish Inquisition toward astrology through an analysis of inquisitorial trials of men who were accused of being astrologers, of being "guilty of raising natal charts", in order to identify accusations against specific people, and the contents that caused certain astrological works to be forbidden or censured. The persecution of practitioners of astrology must be considered not only in light of the Inquisition’s own rules and the assertions of its members about the discipline and their practitioners, but also taking into account the reality of the application of this theoretical norm, and the actual practice. By analyzing the Inquisitorial attitude towards different kinds of astrological predictions and the arguments set forth in inquisitorial trials, it is possible to understand to what extent this institution was concerned with the problem of forbidden knowledge in general, and astrological practice in particular.
In recent years, relational approaches have flourished throughout sociology. From the study of culture and social movements to discussions about intimate economic transactions and the production of economic objects, relations figure prominently in the intellectual toolkit of a broad collection of theorists and analysts in our discipline. Characterized by a reflexive and critical perspective on interpersonal and collective phenomena, these relational approaches have contributed much to the understanding of how the ongoing construction of meaning through interactions and connections constitutes the fabric of social life. In this lecture, though, I ask the apparently trivial question of “what is a relation?” to problematize the analytical scope of relational approaches in sociology. In particular, I look at theoretical developments in a sister discipline (anthropology) to imagine what an alternative relational sociology might look like. Departing from the dominant paradigm of the Durkheiman/Levi-Straussian relational conception, I engage with the theories of Marilyn Strathern, whose STS-inspired work presents relations as the products of specific shared knowledge practices. This theoretical shift allows examining a different type of relational sociology, one that emphasizes knowledge infrastructures, demarcation, and category building over other connective forms of meaning making. I apply this relational/infrastructural approach to two cases (economic sociology and the methodological challenges of big data) in order to highlight some of the potential challenges and rewards that we might reap by shifting our understanding of what constitutes a relation.
In the past couple of decades, philosophy of science has become increasingly focused on the details of contemporary scientific practice. I want to explore some of the tensions inherent in this shift through consideration of scientific explanation. This topic has a detailed philosophical heritage, but little of this history grapples seriously with the contextual and pragmatic nature of actual explanatory practice. By appeal to explanatory practices in chemistry, which appear importantly influenced by overarching aims and often display distinctive representational choices that highlight spatial information, I will consider some (potentially unintuitive) consequences that follow from trying to ground philosophical analysis in practice.
There is a widespread assumption that digital devices make us live too fast, a sense that time is scarce and that the pace of everyday life is accelerating beyond our control. The iconic image that abounds is that of the frenetic, technologically tethered, iPhone-addicted citizen. So what is the relationship between technology and time? Does technological acceleration inexorably hasten the pace of work and everyday life? This talk presents a sociological understanding of the paradoxes of time in a digital age. I will argue that there is no temporal logic inherent in technologies. As opposed to the technologically determinist approach, I will argue that it is our concrete social practices that generate those qualities of technologies that we usually consider as intrinsic and permanent. Technologies do play a central role in the constitution of time regimes, as our very experience of human action and the material world is mediated by technology. But, we make the world together with technology and so it is with time.
At the end of the nineteenth century, orchids were among the most desirable, collectable and exotic flowers to grace British greenhouses, but despite the hours spent watering and tending to them, they turned on their keepers and started trying to kill those who grew them. The first victim was a Mr Winter-Wedderburn, who almost died when a vampiric orchid tried to drain every drop of blood from his body; only his quick-thinking housekeeper¹s intervention saved him. Others were not so lucky, and the list of fatalities grew slowly but steadily during the next few decades. Fortunately, these attacks only occurred in fiction (Mr Winter-Wedderburn was a character in a short story by H.G. Wells), yet they present a curious puzzle for historians. Orchids were to become deadly, sexy, mobile and most noticeably increasingly cunning over the next few decades. To understand why, we need to trace the ³killer orchid² genre back, via popularisations of Darwin¹s botany, to a mystery that Darwin was unable to solve; why some orchids mimic insects. The solution was only found in the twentieth century, and I will argue that the fictitious orchids formed a crucial link in this discovery.
“The euro in your pocket” is the single most important material object that brings the EU into being for Europe’s citizens, so one is often reminded by institutional proponents and scholars alike. And yet, with recent speculations about the possibility of Greece leaving the euro zone and the imposition of capital controls there—which have limited ATM-withdrawals, disabled international payments, and called into question the free movement of capital, goods, and people built in to the principles of the European monetary union—why are the challenges inherent in detaching persons and states from euro cash, and hence the euro project, not accorded the same analytical attention? What would it actually mean to “cash out” of the euro entirely? How has the long process of “cashing in” to the project materialized in peoples’ lives? Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork of communications work at the German central bank as well as oral and archival histories of Germany's 1990 monetary union, I propose to think of euro banknotes and coins not simply as media of exchange with their attendant European iconography, but also as singular yet dispersed material objects that keep the monetary union together through various affective and institutionally embodied attachments. I do so by simultaneously conceptualizing capacities for detachment based on empirical histories of previous currency shifts in order to trace the specific modalities and infrastructural relations that cash enables in this case. My work draws on literatures from across STS, cultural economy, and the social studies of finance to understand cash as a market device through which the affective economies of state-issued currency are produced. I show how euro-cash attaches people differently and unevenly to national-historical and financial economies of belonging and immobility in Europe. By shifting focus from the immateriality of money in bank bailouts and quantitative easing to its cash impediments, I aim to open up new avenues for analyzing the relation between affective monetary attachments and human mobility currently at the center of multiple crises in Europe.
SSP faculty and students only
How does social organization affect the conduct and practice of science? To explore this question, I present empirical data from a comparative ethnographic study of work on two NASA robotic spacecraft mission teams. While the robots appear to be singular entities operating autonomously in the frontiers of space, decisions about what the robots should do and how they accomplish their science are made on an iterative basis by a large, distributed team of scientists and engineers on Earth. As spacecraft team members negotiate among themselves for robotic time and resources, their sociotechnical organization is paramount to understanding how decisions are made, which scientific data are acquired, and how the team relates to their robot. Describing the contrasting organizational practices, interaction rituals, and forms of talk by means of which decisions are made and consensus is achieved on two robotic spacecraft teams, I explore implications for sociotechnical and socially-grounded understandings of group solidarity, data sharing, and scientific results.
Humphry Davy (1778-1829) was a pivotal figure in the emergence of new scientific disciplines at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but his career cannot be understood through the traditional narrative of specialization and professionalization. Davy was a protean individual who forged his social persona with remarkable creativity. He exploited his institutional location to build a charismatic reputation with a public audience. He applied new electrical instruments and powers to reconfigure the discipline of chemistry. And he engaged in a sustained and profound exploration of his own subjectivity, through testing nitrous oxide and galvanism on his own body, and through literary exercises of poetry and fiction. Social ambidexterity, interdisciplinary creativity, and sometimes grueling self-experimentation were the keynotes of this extraordinary individual¹s self-made identity. I shall argue that Davy¹s experiments in selfhood illuminate the historical formation of the man of science in an era when social institutions and personal subjectivity were both in flux.
This paper pursues two lines of enquiry to their common end. The first line of enquiry reflects on the destructive character of epistemic activity. When the epistemic subject is understood as an animal, its knowledge-gathering activities must, like all of its other activities, be understood as increasing entropy. Put less abstractly: we frequently learn how things work by breaking them. The frog, once dissected, never hops again. Even in domains of knowledge in which researchers work to avoid the more destructive modes of investigation, some destruction remains inevitable. The act of handling an archival document, for example, degrades it.
My second line of enquiry considers consequences of the emergence, in the modern era, of the Earth, as distinct from the universe, as a singular epistemic object. My chief example will be the nineteenth century investigation of global ocean currents spearheaded by American oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury. This example is of particular interest because it sets the stage for the convergence of my two lines of enquiry in the twentieth century, with the emergence of global climate as an epistemic object: an object whose study is made possible by its very vulnerability to human activity.
Sarah Richardson (2009a, 2009b) offered both historical counter-evidence to and historiographical criticism of what she terms “Left Vienna Circle scholarship” (henceforth, LVCS), which she associates with the work of Don Howard, Thomas Uebel, and Alan Richardson. Uebel (2010) rebutted much of the historical case, but left the historiographical issues largely untouched. Speaking from the magisterial perspective of the trained professional historian, Sarah Richardson finds LVCS to be typical amateur disciplinary history as done by practitioners and, specifically, that LVCS scholarship offers a longer-term view of “political philosophy of science” in order further to marginalize feminist voices in philosophy of science: good old-fashioned logical empiricists had a political philosophy of science and, thus, feminist philosophy of science has not introduced any new elements into the field. Among the issues raised in Sarah Richardson's essays is the question of the meaning of "political" in such discussions. After reminding us of the prima facie reasons for thinking there was a political agenda to logical empiricism in Vienna in 1929, I will inquire more closely into this question of meaning, using as a test case Hans Reichenbach (1891-1953), who was not a member of the Vienna Circle and who is often placed on the "right" wing of logical empiricism.
Since the early 1990s, evidence-based medicine has come to be a model of objectivity in medical research and practice. This paper explores how evidence-based medicine superseded other accounts of objectivity in medicine, and how the recent developments of translational medicine, personalized medicine, and precision medicine are responses to the shortfalls of evidence-based medicine.
SSP faculty and students only