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Schaffer on Latour December 7, 2009

Posted by Will Thomas in Schaffer Oeuvre.
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Some of Simon Schaffer’s more interesting pieces are his essay reviews, which we ought to discuss more often in this series.  The most important, though, is the confrontational “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Bruno Latour,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 22 (1991): 174-192, a review of The Pasteurization of France.  Schaffer discusses Latour and this piece in this video (approx. from 28:15 to 35:30):

The discussion in the video, and the one it segues into about the characteristics of science studies/history of science, provide an unusually explicit discussion about what scholarship should be like, and it’s useful to have it, because I disagree with it.  Schaffer cites Latour’s arrival with a bottle of his family’s best wine to work out their positions as a testament to Latour’s personal qualities as a scholar: Latour takes the time and effort to reconcile differences rather than engage in petty infighting.  Nevertheless, the tensions brought up in “Eighteenth Brumaire” are extremely interesting, and I view it as unfortunate that the dispute was apparently resolved socially in private, rather than intellectually in public.  (If I’m missing some crucial source, as usual please correct me in comments; to my knowledge Jan Golinski comes closest.)

Schaffer acknowledges that their positions were never fully resolved, comparing the product of the tensions between their points of view to the interference fringes produced by overlapping light sources.  He goes on to discuss how our field is highly unusual in its ability to support perspectives arising from different disciplinary backgrounds.

Yet, I tend to view the persistence of unresolved perspectives as a weakness.  It is important to note that the products of unresolved intellectual tensions can exist only in the minds of those scholars who resolve the differences between perspectives on their own.  Such individuals constitute a fairly narrow group that Chris Donohue has called a “court of understanding” (see also my discussion of “perspective layering” last February). (more…)

SEE Q&A (1): Why is this a new wave? September 25, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in Collins-Evans Q&A.
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Ether Wave Propaganda is pleased to present as a special serialized feature this Q&A session with Cardiff sociologists Harry Collins and Rob Evans regarding their Sociology of Expertise and Experience (SEE) program.  As a special feature, it will not adhere to the usual length restrictions we try to keep on posts, and, therefore, will run unusually long. Also note that this post does not represent a spontaneous exchange.  Collins and Evans have asked for clarifications on the original questions, and have carefully crafted joint responses.  They have also asked me to ask them to modify their responses if I deemed them inadequate or wrong, so as to make the Q&A as useful as possible.  I saw no need to do so for the first question.

Will Thomas: SEE is an attempt to move beyond the sociology of knowledge into a sociology of expertise, and is explicitly formulated as a “third wave” in the sociology of science.  What is it that most distinguishes SEE from other attempts to move beyond the initial insights of SSK, such as the Actor-Network Theory, or Pickering’s “mangle”?

Asked to clarify what I had in mind as the proposed novelty in ANT and the Mangle, I replied: (more…)