Speakers' Abstracts

Elena Aronova

Graduate Student in Science Studies & History
University of California, San Diego

The Politics and Contexts of Soviet Science Studies (naukovedenie) in the 1960s-1980s

Naukovedenie (literarily meaning ‘science studies’), was first institutionalized in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, then resurfaced and was widely publicized in the 1960s, as a new mode of reflection on science, its history, its intellectual foundations and its management, after which it dominated Soviet historiography of science until Gorbachev’s perestroika. In this paper I situate the Soviet science studies project within the culture of late-socialism in the Soviet Union during the Cold War -- asking what this discourse meant for its creators and practitioners, as well as for the high-ranked Soviet officials who provided the authoritative support for the development of this field. I argue that the story of Soviet science studies is comprehensible in the same terms in which historians have come to understand the Cold War roots and origins of the science studies as an academic field in the United States. I will first discuss how the discourse on Scientific-Technological Revolution (STR) functioned in the 1960s as a framework for interpreting and understanding the basic notions of the Cold War, and how it was deployed by the top Soviet leaders to rationalize major economic decisions of the 1970s. I then turn to the local context and local politics of Soviet social theorists of STR – naukoveds, showing how the malleable discourse of STR was deployed by Soviet scholars, to serve their different ends, and to institutionalize their own research interests. Lastly, I discuss the reception of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolution in the Soviet Union, comparing it with the Soviet response to the ‘convergence theories’ of American political scientists, such as Daniel Bell and John Kenneth Galbraith.

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Peter Dear

Professor, History of Science
Cornell University

The Reification of Mind and Matter: Signs of Science in Early-Modern Natural Philosophy

Nearly half a century ago, Patricia Reif noticed in her doctoral dissertation an increasing tendency by scholastic textbook writers in the seventeenth century to treat Aristotelian analytical categories such as "form" and "matter" as if they were really separable things. By implication, uninformed, prime matter was a real substratum of all substances, not just a philosophical abstraction. The short distance between such a conception and the treatments of matter found in the various kinds of "mechanical philosophy" that were proposed in the course of the century is striking, and indicates sources of the "self-evidence" of uninformed matter as raw material used by corpuscularians. Furthermore, matter and the intellect exchanged properties back and forth in the various new natural philosophical systems, as things and thought made mutual sense of one another. Among the resultant hybrids were mechanized music and Newton's "active principles."

Sandra Harding

Professor, Social Sciences and Comparative Education
University of California, Los Angeles

Are Colonialism and Gender Social Relations?
Two Undertheorized Constituents of Technosciences

Two significant contexts of science studies remain undertheorized within this field. These are the implications for sciences, technologies, their philosophies and the field of science studies of feminist movements, on the one hand, and of anti-colonial and postcolonial movements, on the other hand. Each of these intellectual and political movements has produce novel critical perspectives on both Western and non-Western sciences, technologies and their philosophies. However, such critical perspectives have remained largely peripheral to the ways the rest of science studies conceptualize their projects. That is, the feminist and postcolonial perspectives have not, for the most part, had substantial effects on the last three decades of “mainstream” science studies. Nor have they had much effect on central tendencies in each other.

Here I identify three obstacles to the adequate theorization of these critical perspectives within science studies and within each other. These obstacles are the conflicting assumptions about what are the significant social relations relevant to the practices of sciences and technologies, what are the relevant sciences, and, in the case of feminist and postcolonial science studies, who could be the desirable transformative social agents. All three of these science studies fields need to engage in substantial ways (not just through occasional gestures or outright dismissals) with the postcolonial and/or feminist critical perspectives if they are to escape the eurocentrism and/or androcentrism that have plagued these fields to date. Fortunately, at least two kinds of studies have been developed that are not subject to these charges. These provide clues as to how to theorize more effectively gender and postcolonial contexts of scientific and technical work and of science studies themselves.

Sheila Jasanoff

Globalizing Objectivity

This paper argues that the objectivity of policy-relevant knowledge at the global level is constituted through a cluster of specialized, routinized, opaque, and poorly reflected upon practices that are legitimated, if at all, only at the level of national political cultures. Hegemonic formations arise at the global level because no one is attending to the micro-practices of knowledge-making and translation through which the world’s knowledge—what the World Trade Organization (WTO) accepts as good science on risk, for example—gets formed. This paper shows how the U.S. understanding of objectivity, which is not universal but situated, has been built up through successive institutional practices in agencies and courts, and how it eventually got embedded in a global institution, the WTO. The paper reflects on a social experiment that I designed and conducted (the submission of an amicus brief to the WTO) to see if facts and claims could travel in an institutional context in which even “good social science” has the decks of “rationality” heavily stacked against it.

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Adrian Johns

Professor, Department of History
University of Chicago

For and Against Universal Libraries

The dream of a universal library is an ancient one, but it has never seemed as realizable as now. Thanks to Google, it has become conceivable – and in looser promotional moments, plausible – that an online, virtual library could come into existence that would contain, certainly not all published material, but a larger amount than any physical building or collection of buildings could possibly hold, and make it accessible anywhere a network connection could be had. Caveats by scholars that such a library could never become truly all-encompassing may well be beside the point. The prospect has major implications for everyone who works in academia and, in all likelihood, everyone who does not. The future of knowledge is at stake, which is partly why controversy rages. As a historian, I have to add that the past of knowledge is at stake too.

So far the debate that mass digitization has provoked, intense as it has sometimes been, has embraced a relatively unsophisticated set of generalizations about authorship, circulation, and reading. These generalizations reach to knowledge itself. This fact suggests a respect in which a perspective informed by science studies can make a useful contribution. In my paper I hope to demonstrate as much by focusing on the historicity of what all sides often assume to be universals at the heart of the issue: creativity, access, reading, and, indeed, universality itself.

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Mary Jo Nye

Horning Professor in the Humanities and Professor of History Emeritus
Oregon State University

The First Generation in Social Studies of Science: Polyani, Bernal, and Mannheim in the 1930s

Michael Polanyi (1891-1976), John Desmond Bernal (1901-1971), and Karl Mannheim (1893-1947) are among intellectuals often cited as originators of key ideas adopted by the generation of scholars that established the Science Studies Unit at Edinburgh in 1966, the international Parex (Paris-Sussex) project in 1970, and the journal Science Studies (renamed Social Studies of Science) in 1971. Mannheim and Polanyi, both Hungarian, fled in 1933 from Germany to Great Britain where Mannheim taught sociology at the London School of Economics and Polanyi directed the Physical Chemistry division at the University of Manchester. The Irish-born Bernal spent most of his scientific career in x-ray studies of molecular structure at Cambridge University and Birkbeck College in London. This paper examines their major writings on the nature and practice of science published during the 1930s and 1940s. Emphasis is placed on these intellectuals’ political and personal interactions, their different views on the significance of science as social practice, and paradoxes in the incorporation of their legacies into the social construction of scientific knowledge and scientific constructivism.

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Theodore M. Porter

Professor, Department of History
University of California, Los Angeles

Thin Description: Surface and Depth in Science and Science Studies

A succession of modern thinkers has theorized the thinning of the world and of thought. Edmund Burke and Frédéric Le Play lamented the disappearance of depth and wisdom as European states forsook tradition in the name of revolution. Alexis de Tocqueville worried about American democratic superficiality, and Marxist critical theorists about an alliance of capitalism and positivism. Against this, positivistic research on the modern pressed the need for professional social science on the ground that in a complex, interdependent world, local experience can only deceive us about true structures of causation. They had a point, but they underestimated the power of paradox. Our large, diverse, and politicized world has become less tolerant of subtlety, which recedes into nooks and corners, and increasingly it reveres information for its ready accessibility and seeming solidity. Science, adapting its public voice and some of its inward practices to such expectations, now flourishes in the public sphere as a preeminent site of facts, data, and statistics. Yet the aspiration to superficiality yields up all kinds of unexpected consequences, and exploring these is among the most pressing missions for science studies. We ought to scrutinize the domain of the superficial, yet not to be captured by it. We miss something vital if we merely follow scientists around or listen to what scientists and other spokesmen say about science, without asking about the meanings they make and the roles they create.

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George Reisch

Instructor, School of Continuing Studies
Northwestern University

Popular Audiences for Science Studies: 1930s, 1950s, and Today

There are several contexts in which science studies can be considered. There are those in which the science under study takes place; and there are contexts surrounding the creation and reception of science studies itself. My current interest is the popular audience for philosophy and philosophy of science. As series editor for Open Court’s series Popular Culture and Philosophy, I have observed tremendous popular interest in topics belonging traditionally to history, philosophy, and sociology of science raised by popular TV shows, rock bands, and movies. When successful, the books in this series engage tens of thousands of readers outside of academia about issues regularly found only inside academic writings.

In many cases, however, these encounters are not successful. One reason is the generally anti-intellectual culture of the United States and the resulting cultural and linguistic isolation between intellectuals and the public. This reduces the effectiveness of the form and tone typical of scholarly essays that seek to reach a broad public. I will then examine a different form of popular writing, namely the graphic novel, and defend it as a better way to engage the public while drawing examples from my own efforts to capture the politics of cold-war philosophy of science in graphic novel form.

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Alan Richardson

Professor, Department of Philosophy
University of British Columbia

From the Icy Slopes of Logic: Toward Interdisciplinary Science Studies at Glacial Pace

George Reisch’s book, How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science, was, while in draft entitled To the Icy Slopes of Logic. This phrase comes from a passage in the Vienna Circle’s 1929 manifesto, in which the authors (Hans Hahn, Otto Neurath, and Rudolf Carnap) write, “Not every single adherent of the scientific world-conception will be a fighter. Some, glad of solitude, will lead a withdrawn existence on the icy slopes of logic.” Philosophy of science in North America grew out of logical empiricist “logic of science”; Reisch’s book explores how philosophy of science in North America retreated to the icy slopes of logic. Based on my on-going scholarly work in the history of philosophy of science, my personal efforts to try to create a Science and Technology Studies Program at UBC, and my own training as an analytic philosopher, I offer some reflections of what good might come from more successfully engaging philosophers in science and technology studies and what the sources of the difficulty have been. My largest theoretical innovation will be to insist on a dynamic element to contextualism: we need to consider differences in the velocity of change in the various subdisciplines of science and technology studies as well as of the institutions in which such projects are engaged. For example, a trend in philosophy tends to peak around 100 years after it is first announced—as the case of naturalism shows. I use this to predict that philosophy of science will be ready to engage in a serious interaction with science and technology studies in the 2030s.

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Steven Shapin

Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science
Harvard University

Lowering the Tone in the History of Science: A Noble Calling

Over the past several decades, the tone has, so to speak, been lowered in the history and sociology of science. In specific terms, that means, for example, that science has been increasingly treated by historians as powerful and reliable (of course) but not cognitively, socially, or methodologically unique, not disembodied, not morally special. The founder of the Anglophone discipline, George Sarton, once announced that the history of science could not be just an ordinary form of history because science itself was not an ordinary cultural product, amenable to ordinary historical methods and presumptions: science was private, higher, impersonal, and ultimately redemptive. This paper surveys “lowering the tone” not as denigration (of course) but as a species of naturalism about science as a historical object. It briefly documents the modes of modern naturalism and it argues that their rise–- and the concomitant appearance of tone-lowering-– has something to do with institutional changes in academic history of science and a lot to do with changes in science itself.

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John Zammito

John Antony Weir Professor of History
Rice University

Soundings in Once and Future HPS

For a significant moment in the development of science studies, the idea of “history and philosophy of science” (HPS) as a unified discipline caught the imagination of scholars. A number of departments in major universities were established along these lines and a distinguished journal, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, was founded. But many of these departments have disintegrated and at least one of the founding editors of the journal despaired of its vision. Somehow, HPS passed out of favor. I wish not only to discuss this episode in the recent history of our field, but to suggest reasons for the revival of the project.

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For further information on the Science Studies graduate program or minor in Science, Technology, and Society, write, call, or e-mail:

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