Question Forum 4

From Fuller's Philosophy of STS:

1. Given that Latour's "scientific heroes" [62-63] resolved controversies, thereby demonstrating that "Science turns out to be the most politic form of politics," is ANT a form of political science? Why or why not? STS too?

2. Characterize Ravitz, Feenberg, Turner, and/or Fuller in terms of Table 7 [95].

3. If positivism [79] reflects a tendency toward "unchecked exercise of reason" that must be counteracted by a reliance on "foundations," then how should those foundations be established? To what extent must they be "reasonable," and does this lead to a regress toward some sort of fundamentalism?

4. Fuller comments [109] that "members of a culture need not fully grasp the technical content of the scientific ideas that influence them." What do members of a culture need to grasp about science? Conversely, what do scientists need to understand about the cultural ideas that influence them?

Best wishes everyone!


Filler Fuller Questions

5. [64-67] Holding to Fuller’s economic characterization of seminal STS scholars, which market system best suits your field’s/discipline’s interests/principles, research foci, and methodologies/model i.e., which model provides the greatest benefit or potential for ‘progress’?

  • How might practitioners and outsides of your field/discipline game the system to their advantage e.g., self-interest, social-justice (just for Tim and Merc)?

6. Launching from Fuller’ account of the Sokal Hoax and Science Wars in chapter-four, I would like to reintroduce the issue of literacy: Should STS practitioners turn the question of literacy back onto interdisciplinary efforts in Science? Should Science be allowed to use new (post 1950s) creative forms of data expression when engaging with the public, as this arguably subverts the mantra that the data speaks for itself and caters to illiteracy?

#. What is your answer to the question that should have been asked?
(This is not a dodge question, though it could be mistaken for one.)


Henderson: Answer to the question that should have been asked. (Thanks for this option.)

Give Fuller’s thorough critique of STS—its methods (ANT), its exclusion of philosophy, its neo-liberal sensibility in contract work, its shift to inquired-based work—what is left to salvage moving forward? Why should one continue as a graduate student in STS?

Fuller has taken me on a revealing and intellectually bumpy ride through a little discussed history of STS, one that has brought us today to a Latour-centered universe that emphasizes ANT and contract work. Were I to approach this book as a student outside STS, reading for pure pleasure about this foolish discipline of underlaborers, I might conclude that it’s a good thing I didn’t major in a field this ridiculous, a field that would encourage me to undertake scholarship devoid of the right history, the right methods, and the right approaches to the study of science. Whew!

I’d wipe my brow and feel secure in my choice to continue wearing the mantle of scholarship of English literature where my work on 19th century metaphors of science in Dickens might be irrelevant and obsolete to most readers, but where my values, approaches, and insights would be clear and simple to me—and to those in my long-suffering discipline. I wouldn’t feel embarrassed or frustrated at having spent the last two years immersing myself in a field that Fuller characterizes at its most generous as a group of naïve scholars who have failed to question many of the assumptions and consequences of their own work, who willingly labor under the master of technoscience, caring only about their own paychecks and nothing about the norms and values they resist ascribing to their approaches and conclusions. Thank god I stuck with English, I might say.

But that’s not the reality of my circumstance. Instead, I’m halfway through a book that has made me wonder what it is that is good in STS. What value does it have? What can we salvage? And I ask hoping that the answer isn’t that I’ll have to wait for some apocalyptic change in the discipline, where we finally embrace our philosophic enemies and see the collective folly of our earnestness. I remain hopeful that the last half of Fuller’s book shifts from an evisceration of the past to an illumination of a path forward, one not just for the philosophers who have, I admit, been unfairly excluded from the discipline.

I’d like to think that Fuller sees graduate students in his audience of readers, that he realizes that sometimes the best rhetoric to inspire change isn’t continual berating of what has been. What is that saying about catching bees and honey? I appreciate what he has revealed about the history I’ve unwittingly taken on as an STS scholar, and no doubt I’ll find his criticism and insight valuable as I move through my own work. However, I’d like to see myself in his book before too long, a hopeful (but not naïve) graduate student who wants to believe that the constructivism, symmetry, and fieldwork I’ve come to embrace might be salvaged from the divisive struggles of the old guard, who are not so dissimilar from the “old boys club” of the scientific community, who see us, the younger generation of scholars, as “selling out or at least lowering [our] professional aspirations” (73). Is this too much to ask?

Regna answer 4/6
Science and scientific discoveries have the potential to change people’s everyday lives. When something has the ability to have such a huge impact on how long you will live, what you will do while you live, and the environment in which you live, I think it is important to understand the force and ideas behind all these decisions. While it would be unreasonable to expect that all members of a culture will be able to completely grasp the technical content of the scientific ideas that influence them, it is important for people to have at least a general or basic understanding of these ideas that impact their lives so greatly. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me “Oh I was never good at math” or “science just isn’t my thing.” There needs to be some way for scientists to be able to communicate with the public so the public can guide them and their research. The responsibility lies with both the scientists and the public to find some common ground of communication.

Scientific discoveries have been essential to sustaining life throughout history. Everything from new medical treatments to alternative energy sources have helped to sustain life and it is necessary that the public have some general understanding of the importance of scientific research. Without public backing, funding for scientific research would be cut. It is the responsibility of the scientist to explain why their research is significant and important. Scientists plead their case to the public hoping to get money and the research that the public deems is the most important is what becomes funded.

I actually think the use of creative forms of data expression allows scientists to increase the scientific literacy of the public. Making data clear and easy to understand can be a difficult task. While data can and should speak for itself, not everyone is going to have the tools they need to interpret and understand the results. The responsibility lies with the scientist to make sure data is presented in a manner in which others can understand it. However, the public also needs to take more of an interest in understanding the basics of science, even if not able to grasp the technical content of the scientific ideas that influence them.

Jennings response to question 1

To answer this, we might characterize political science in terms of its own debate about whether it ought to be a positive/descriptive scientific or normative field of inquiry. The positivist “school” of political science champions quantitative description independent of normative conclusions or qualitative/value commitments (which the normativist asserts is impossible). ANT fits nicely in this positivist political science niche because it is doing a sort of normal science of technoscientific network building/describing. It does not typically claim to want to intervene in the networks it describes even as it admits its own complicity in that network. If Fuller is correct, ANT practitioners only wish to provide an interesting story in order to secure their future in a neoliberal academic environment. If networks cannot be substantially politically/socially critiqued as they are studied, in part because the study is funded by interested parties and powers in the network, then ANT is like both the science and political science that hide their normative productivity in order to avoid the trickiness of our postmodern moral impasse.

The normativist “school” of political science tends to identify with “C”ritical theory and the commitment that political science already does and ought to seek to intervene in politics as it describes it. In this definition, ANT does not fit very well. Here again Fuller and I agree that for ANT to be the “good” kind of political science, it would have to develop more robust methodological tools to critique its object of study. It is interesting that STS is already epistemologically “beyond” this debate. I bet almost no STS scholar today would debate whether science is inherently normative, and that pure positivism is impossible and probably undesirable for its secret antidemocratic tendencies (Or can I speak for STS on even this?). And yet, the problem is that this epistemic commitment has not been embraced on a methodological level. ANT at least still acts as if it’s just reporting on how technoscience operates.

The beauty of Latour’s mimicry of Einstein’s epistemic-political maneuver is that no matter what, his theory can always be made to work. Our critical social scientific discourses have been transformed so that we cannot regard science as anything but political, or our relationships as anything but technoscientific networks into which we are always already enmeshed. Latour’s worship of the resolvers of scientific controversies results in the valorization of the act of forging a consensus, which seems to bring him away from the previously prominent role of normative critique, the unraveling of networks and consensus. It also seems to rehash the rational revisionism of science that STS was supposed to help us overcome. To me this parallels the normative conundrums of Foucault’s theorization of power. It appears that the most powerful explanation or discourse is the one which can appropriate every prior discourse into its own logic, and ANT appears to do this exceptionally well. In other words, the most powerful discourse might look like a grand theory of everything, but it’s not clear that this (ANT?) is the most normatively desirable kind of description, as it seems to eliminate normativity as an interesting question. At other (more enthusiastically normative) times, Latour supports, at least or reads into, the clever machinations of past scientists like Einstein and Pasteur as a method of proceeding now to build stronger networks. But the normative direction of ANT thus results in a love of the victor of epistemic politics. Capitalism contains many a powerful network, but are these the most normatively responsible/desirable? In other words, the notions of the most powerful theory (whatever the norm/end of that is) and the most normatively desirable theory, are both being homogenized with or subordinated under the logic of the most marketable network. We no longer need to inquire about which theories or norms are best for humanity, just look at the most powerful networks and join on in.

Fuller comments [109] that "members of a culture need not fully grasp the technical content of the scientific ideas that influence them." What do members of a culture need to grasp about science? Conversely, what do scientists need to understand about the cultural ideas that influence them?

Fuller proposes new alternate “rational” endings to Social Text's editors' response to Sokal's hoax. That the editors did not respond with the kind of defense and certainty Fuller offers reveals STS' continued little brother relationship to science. Chapter Four of Social Epistemology offers some insight on science as a practice and how scientists may agree on what science is as a practice, rather than their agreeing on what it stands as in terms of belief. Thus, if scientists “'pass' as competent performers” then they pass as scientists. The question in this case becomes can a scientist be a proficient practitioner without grasping the nuances of her art in terms of theory? (112)

The leap here to the lay public lies potentially in the practice of the science rather than in the understanding of science. The lay public does not have the tacit knowledge of science as it is practiced, yet, in the case of Fuller and his proposal for an alternate ending to the Sokol affair, the lay public can decide what science means, that is, “competence in physics is not necessary for competence in the cultural implications of physics.” (109) In fact, Fuller makes the opposite case, that the enchantment with physics in particular may not last if the veil of mystery comes to be pulled from it.

So, what should people understand then? Which members of which culture do we mean? This would be the first parameter I would set around this question. If moving from the trend in knowledge for place-based pedagogy, then people could need to know the science that affects them and the environment that makes up the place where they live. Perhaps if I understand the implications of science in my own lived sphere, I could relate more sympathetically or at least with more thoughtfulness regarding how science may influence other people in their lived spheres.

On a very practical level, people have the right to know science's role and practices with respect to life necessities: food, water, air, soil and science's impact on these. What do to about science's impact on these may be in relation to the kind of relationship science fosters or scientific activities support.

If I understand the last question correctly, you are asking what kinds of social features/fact scientists need to know about science. That is how I understand your question.

My answer for this mirrors my answers on what the lay public ought to know. A scientist ought to understand how his/her practice affects a lived-in space of animals, people, plants, water, soil, air, etc. If history demonstrates the already rational (Epistemology,108) then scientists need to understand the rational winners of their field and other fields, how practice shifted paradigms, and that the ideals of scientific theory do not always meet eye-toeye with the on-the-ground practice. We are back to scientists needing to understand that their scientific practice and that aligned or commensurable practice of a colleague may reveal little about their colleague's worldview. It is important to see science as sciences, as a pluralistic endeavor, in flux and shaped by scientists but also by a range of people in the more immediate and wider lay publics. They need to see that despite the proposed objectivity of their endeavors and the negative feedback of their mentors, they can never fully check their cultural context at the door to the lab.


1. Given that Latour's "scientific heroes" [62-63] resolved controversies, thereby demonstrating that "Science turns out to be the most politic form of politics," is ANT a form of political science? Why or why not? STS too?

ANT is a form of neoliberal research method. ANT can be conceptualized as a tool through which political science in the neoliberal era uses to justify and reproduce the neoliberal institutional discourse of weak state and strong market but in actual practice strong state, strong market. ANT allows for infinite reconfigurations of models of actor behavior to legitimate any political project in which power is described in transfuse models. ANT can resolve any controversy by changing the scope and scale of the account to include or exclude actors and the distribution of agency throughout the network.

ANT’s flexibility to resolve all accounts to the basis of the actor(s) forms the politics of ANT society. ANT is a neoliberal social science methodology because it allows the inquirer to collapse all boundaries between the inquirer and the object of inquiry. Fuller states, “Instead of referring to the inquirer’s relationship to the inquired, one now refers to the interrelations among the inquired that the inquirer then renders transparent” (64). The collapse of the relationship between inquirer and the object of inquiry creates a situation in which the inquirer merely elucidates the points he or she wishes to make for the sake of argument. Given that Fuller discusses this change in the relationship of inquirer to inquired in context to Einstein’s “super-relativism” we can understand that no position can be invalidated, because all potential perspectives are possible. Thus all positions are valued, which allows for market penetration no matter where regardless of culture, location, and specificity. A market can always be created! Therefore, ANT as a form of ‘super-relativism’ mirrors the neoliberal political condition in which all is valuable so long as it can be translated to and given market value. There is no wrong position in ANT so long as an account can be generated to support the value of the actors in the network. ANT as a political science ascribes agency to all in the network in the same way that all actors in the neoliberal economy have agency, though some more than others, with their ability to participate in the market.

However, Fuller begs the questions “The difference between these two lessons ultimately turns on whether politics is, so to speak, a market leader or follower: does politics aim to set goals and standards that transcend and even counteract default tendencies in thought and action or does it aim simply to include within those tendencies what is currently excluded” (66)? Clearly, ANT tries to include what is excluded. Therefore the more actors that are included the greater the potential for market participation. ANT, internalizes neoliberal norms into the very methods of social science research by aligning social science research to obtain neoliberal values and practices whenever and wherever possible. Thus we can say the same of ANT as Fuller says of science:

In other words, left to its own devices, nature may be much more tolerant of alternative representations than either philosophers or scientists had realized. In that case, the primary responsibility for the construction and maintenance of a particular representations lies with a self-constituting social order. The problem of providing adequate foundations for science then shifts from discerning inviolate natural laws to designing enduring institutions (62).

The problem for ANT shifts from providing adequate foundations for the account to designing neoliberal institutions that can fit any account generated by ANT. In this way we can understand STS one discipline concerned with generating neoliberal institutions suitable for science and technology practice in neoliberal society. Perhaps we see this most going on in the NOVA campus at Virginia Tech where policy is the center piece of their work?

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