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Wrap-up: An editorial view Michael Lynch, Cornell University


Current trends The decline in studies of hard cases : physics and mathematics; ... but not a ballet. A renewed tension between epistemography (P. Dear), ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Wrap-up: An editorial view Michael Lynch, Cornell University

Wrap-up An editorial viewMichael Lynch,
Cornell University
  • STS The Next 20
  • Conversations within and beyond the field
  • Harvard University
  • April 8, 2011

What can an editor say about the next 20?
  • I read 150 plus new submissions a year
  • many by students and recent PhDs
  • we reject the vast majority
  • Dont trust me, Im a gatekeeper a blunter of
    cutting edges
  • STS provides strong arguments with which to treat
    its own success as contingent and fragile.
  • Be wary of talk of progress!
  • Plan an impression of current state of the art
    -- a Borges list -- followed by a near-term
    problem and possible responses.

Current trends
  1. The decline in studies of hard cases physics
    and mathematics and the proliferation of studies
    of sciences of the particular (Shapin).
  2. Increased isolation from HPS, increased closeness
    to anthropology cultural studies.

Trends (cont.)
  • Post-pomo decline in overt contentiousness.
    Arguments about relativism, constructionism, and
    postmodernism fade into background.
  • Tendency to invoke STS, themes, literature
    without explication.
  • to assert that science is (socially) constructed,
    rather than to argue for that position to cite
    (Latour, 1987) without saying what is relevant or
  • (name, date no page number) citation format
    encourages this (call me a format determinist).
  • Much of what we publish has no clear connection
    with a single guiding theory or ideology.

Trends (cont.)
  1. A normative turn, but not a ballet. A renewed
    tension between epistemography (P. Dear),
    ontography, and ethigraphy and work that claims
    STS as a basis for epistemology, ontology, or
  2. Big-P Politics and Big-I Institutions are more
    prominently featured than their lower case

Trends (cont.)
  • Symbolic enrolment of the global south.
  • Global south is an increasingly prominent theme
    in STS lit, conference program
  • N. America / N. Euro still prevail in English
    language literature
  • More participation from E. Asia, Brazil, India

Some short-term trends
  • Public engagement exercises (e.g., GM Nation)
  • Funding initiatives in UK, Europe
  • Critical participation by STS
  • Interest in futures embedded in presents e.g.,
    sociology of expectations.

Unity in hybridity
  • Interconceptuality an alternative to
  • A love of hybrids and an aversion to dichotomies,
    binaries, distinctions
  • Borderlands trading zones, boundary objects,
    boundary work, boundary organizations
  • Coproduction, coconstruction, interactional
  • Bio (biosociality, biocitizenship )
  • Displacements and respecifications mutable

Silence Studies and the New Science War
  • The polemical theme of silence about
  • Latours (1984) criticism of critique
  • NY Times quote from Republican strategist
  • Should the public come to believe that the
    scientific issues are settled, he writes, their
    views about global warming will change
    accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to
    make the lack of scientific certainty a primary
  • Artificially maintained controversies.
  • Example A witness for the defense of
    intelligent design against establishment

Symmetry toward certainty uncertainty?
  • Symmetry and impartiality should apply no
    less strongly to claims about uncertainty than to
    claims about certainty
  • General constructionist arguments differ from
    particular arguments in specific controversies.
  • The two are readily confused when STS studies
    science of the particular - interests,
    corporate and political alignments, etc. are
    overtly part of dispute.
  • Administrative objectivity

  • Pick our fights wisely use arguments about
    certainty and contingency selectively, for
    political purposes we support
  • Deploy STS arguments for hire
  • Collins Evans - neo-demarcationism
  • Position ourselves as neutral experts about
    expertise, controversy, consensus
  • A reversion to pre-SSK (social) realism?
  • Can it handle the (new) hard cases (climate

Case-embedded critique
  • Not an application of general STS or
    constructionist position
  • STS arguments provide initial incentive to pursue
  • STS theory is thin
  • Immersion in the study the case-in-context
    provides the basis for normative judgment and
    critique (when relevant)

  • History of last 20 (actually 40) years of STS
  • Cast doubt on any attribution of abstract norms
    to science
  • Questioning conventional foundationalist
    demarcationist programs of advice
  • Still, many of us hanker for something more
    than a descriptivist, anti-conventional programs
  • Easy route is to mature into a new
    conventionalism, forgetting the fields history
    of arguments
  • Does this summit forecast a harder path?
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