Kuhn’s Demon, or: The Iconoclastic Tradition in Science Criticism January 21, 2013Posted by Will Thomas in Ideology of Science.
Tags: Allan Franklin, Augustus de Morgan, Barry Barnes, Bruno Latour, David Bloor, Gerald Geison, Gerald Holton, Gregor Mendel, Isaac Newton, James Watson, John Maynard Keynes, Louis Pasteur, Mary Jo Nye, Michael Bycroft, Michael Mulkay, Michael Polanyi, Nicholas Wade, Peter Medawar, R. A. Fisher, Rebekah Higgitt, Robert Merton, Robert Millikan, Simon Schaffer, Stephen Brush, Steve Fuller, Steven Shapin, Thomas Kuhn, William Bateson, William Broad
The message that scientists are human and that science is messy is crossing the ether once again. Of late there has been a certain degree of excitement percolating among historians and science-studies scholars over the #OverlyHonestMethods hashtag on Twitter. It seems that scientists are sending out tweets about their work that happen to nicely coincide with the images of science that historians would like to present to the world. Twitter is, of course, the world hub for “trending” topics, and this particular trend is already simmering down. But, before the moment is completely gone, it might be worthwhile to reflect briefly on the history of the ideas 1) that there exists a dominant image of science as a pristine and rigidly ordered activity, and 2) that the negation of this image would be broadly beneficial to scientists and society.
Tags: Barry Goldwater, Clifford Geertz, Daniel Bell, David Apter, Erik Erikson, Georges Sorel, Karl Mannheim, Karl Marx, Richard Hofstadter, Sigmund Freud, Walt Rostow
Clifford Geertz’s well-known 1964 essay, “Ideology as a Cultural System” appeared in a volume called Ideology and Discontent, which was edited by David Apter (1924-2010). Apter (you might recall from this post) was a modernization theorist. His best-known work on the subject was The Politics of Modernization (1965). The appearance of Geertz’s essay in Apter’s volume should be no surprise since Geertz was himself a scholar of modernization, and served with Apter as a member of the University of Chicago’s Committee for the Comparative Study of New Nations. (Relevant here is Geertz’s long discussion near the end of his 1964 essay on the political culture of newly independent Indonesia.)
Apter’s own introductory essay in the volume (titled “Ideology and Discontent,” pp. 15-46) is a discussion of the relationship between economic development, political ideology, and social science, and is very much in the tradition of the intellectual liberalism of that era. But it also zigs in certain places where you might expect it to zag, and, though it is not as lucid or valuable as Geertz’s essay, it is very much worth a read to try and get a beat on some of the contours of the kind of critical-interpretive social science in which Apter was engaged. Additionally, it is the earliest reference I have so-far come across to the “ideology of science,” which is a concept I have been tracking off and on through this blog (though Google Books informs me there are a number of earlier precedents).
Clifford Geertz on “Ideology” as an Analytical Term, Pt. 2 April 11, 2012Posted by Will Thomas in History of the Human Sciences, Ideology of Science.
Tags: Benjamin Lee Whorf, Charles Sanders Peirce, Clifford Geertz, Edmund Burke, Erik Erikson, Ernst Cassirer, Eugene Galanter, Francis X. Sutton, Karl Mannheim, Kenneth Burke, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Murray Gerstenhaber, Thomas Kuhn
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This post continues Pt. 1 of a look at Clifford Geertz’s “Ideology as a Cultural System,” first published in Ideology and Its Discontents, ed. David E. Apter (Free Press of Glencoe, 1964), pp. 47-76.
But, before returning to Geertz, I’d like to detour for a quick look at Erik Erikson (1902-1994). In addition to being a psychologist, Erikson was part of an illustrious club of postwar intellectuals. His Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (1958) was cited in a particularly broad literature in the ’60s and ’70s (here’s the Google ngram for “Young Man Luther”), and he was particularly important in establishing “identity” as a term of analysis. Here’s his take on “ideology” and its relationship to “identity” from the introduction to that book (22):
Tags: Carl Kaysen, Clifford Geertz, Daniel Bell, Francis X. Sutton, Gilbert Ryle, James Tobin, Karl Mannheim, Karl Marx, Michael Mulkay, Morris Berman, Raymond Aron, Seymour Harris, Talcott Parsons, Thomas Gieryn, Werner Stark
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I suspect most historians, including myself, could not say much about the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s work and ideas beyond the two-word phrase “thick description”. Yet, almost all historians will know at least that much. Further, although he borrowed the phrase from Gilbert Ryle, these historians will likely associate the phrase with Geertz, probably because at some point they have read his 1972 essay “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight”. As an undergraduate history major, I was assigned it as part of my senior year methods course.
I would argue that most historians know about thick description, as exemplified in “Deep Play”, because it has become integral to our sense of professional identity. It articulates what we have the ability and freedom to do, which others cannot (or, for ideological reasons, do not) do. This identity identifies historians as reliable experts at getting beyond the surface features of a culture and teasing out the hidden values and presuppositions lurking within its more visible elements: its texts, its propaganda, its day-to-day practices, its objects, and so forth.
Unfortunately, this skill is often treated as a kind of secret, to which historians simply gain access upon induction into the historians’ guild by reading works like “Deep Play”. Once in, you need not worry too much about what actually constitutes legitimate and valuable interpretations of past cultures. (My bête noire is historians’ continued belief that “scientism” and “technological enthusiasm” constitute legitimate characterizations of the rationales in certain technical and political cultures.)
We could doubtless benefit from reading more of Geertz on the proper interpretation of culture. This post is about his essay, “Ideology as a Cultural System,” first published in Ideology and Discontent, ed. David E. Apter (Free Press of Glencoe, 1964), pp. 47-76, which still bears sober reading a half-century later.
Norms, “Ideology”, and the Move against “Functionalist” Sociology September 4, 2011Posted by Will Thomas in Ideology of Science.
Tags: Clifford Geertz, Daniel Greenberg, David Beardslee, Donald O'Dowd, Geoffrey Cantor, George Daniels, Harry Collins, Ian Mitroff, John Tyndall, Lorraine Daston, Margaret Mead, Michael Mulkay, Rhoda Metraux, Robert K. Merton, Roger Cooter, Roger Smith, Ronald Tobey, Steven Shapin, Thomas Gieryn, Thomas Kuhn, West Churchman
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The sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) critique of the Mertonian program to define a “normative structure of science” centered around the complaint that, by focusing on the social conditions that fostered scientific rationality, nothing was said about the sociology of knowledge-producing processes in everyday scientific work. It seems to me that SSK strategies like “methodological relativism”, and Steven Shapin’s embrace of “middle-range” historico-sociological theories, might ultimately have resulted in additions to, and a reconciliation with, the original Mertonian framework.
However, at the same time, another critique questioned the basic validity of that framework. This critique shared the SSK critique’s interest in describing actual scientific work, but, like Mertonian sociology, it focused on scientists’ and others’ sense of the essence of scientific culture without directly addressing knowledge-production processes. This critique held that, because “functionalist” ideal-type systems of scientific behavior could not actually be found in their pure form, such systems did not meaningfully exist. Legitimate sociology had to be obtained inductively from the empirical record, as studied by historians and ethnologists.
A key work here is: Michael Mulkay, “Norms and Ideology in Science,” Social Science Information 15 (1976): 637-656.
Tags: Arnold Thackray, F. R. Leavis, Humphry Davy, J. D. Bernal, Jeremy Bentham, Max Weber, Michael Faraday, Morris Berman, William Thomas Brande
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The main source for my last post, Morris Berman’s Social Change and Scientific Organization: The Royal Institution, 1799-1844 (1978), is a very good example of a post-Marxist social history of science. The historiographical tradition of the social history of science will benefit from some reflection, because it has been eclipsed for a quarter century, though some of its basic strategies remain phenomenally influential. The key component, now largely missing, is the sustained analysis of how the direction of scientific research programs align with their social and economic milieu (though, of course, sources of patronage remain a subject of interest).
Unsurprisingly, Marxism is a key methodological source for the social history of science. Traditionally, Marxist history of science maintained a narrow conceptual gap between general scientific inquiry and research related to technological development and industrial production. Marxist analysts — the crystallographer and intellectual J. D. Bernal (1901-1971) being a prime example — usually emphasized the historical connection between scientific research and capitalist and militaristic interests. Generally, they would not deny the importance of research pursued for intellectual interest, but they would view a self-imposed isolation of this research to be a bourgeois conceit. Eager to point out that fundamental advances and practical problems often feed off each other, Marxists urged that scientists should take an active, conscious interest in social and political problems.
In his analysis of the history of the RI, Berman retains the Marxist emphasis in class interest, using a prosopographical analysis of the RI’s proprietors to convincingly chart a shift from an early dominance by the agenda of landed interests to a post-1815 dominance by a reform-minded class of business, legal, and medical professionals. (more…)