Live Blogging: Stories, Texts and Technoscience (3)

In methodology, three of the core areas

1) The question of “facts” – the way in which the word “finding” gets tossed about. In a literal sense – “what you find” or the activity of doing the findings. But in Fleck (or Latour), it is the “what are you producing”? What does “findings” imply – something that you come upon (“wow, there it is!”).

Building on that, the possibility of sociology is the idea of social construction (without which you don’t have sociology). Durkheim – Facts, Marx – Reifications (Etc). Natural scientists believe that the science will eventually explain all (i.e. poverty). Metaphysical fairy tales.

This gets us to the notion of the “science wars” – we might go larger and talk about the “reality wars” – nothing less than the nature of reality. We can also use Helen Veran’s descriptive terms – universalists vs relativists. Also: Internalist vs externalist. We have to remember that these are simply metaphors.

Externalists always want to place things in a broader contexts – there are only values that are sustained by a sufficiently enforced consensus. There are various mechanisms to do this, to find what counts. If you want to sustain, you have to enroll sufficient allies and get them to back your explainations (Actor-Network theory). Ironic in Hacking’s view. You have something that is ontologically subjective – medicine is only there because of social arrangements that acknowledge it as there.

Internalists think that this is not the case, medicine is what it is because bodies are there, that work the way they do universally. Regardless of the rest of the historical contingencies that may have shaped the where and the when, you would still get the same result because bodies break down in the same way.

Mol, John Law and Veran – are there multiple ontologies? Are there multiple objects of whatever there is (Numbers in Veran’s book). What does it mean to advance the claim that things internalists understand as singular, externalists understand as multiple.

For an internalist, method is a guide to a discovery of true facts in the social world – things are there to be discovered. America was always there to be discovered! It was always there.

Degrees of constructionism – Hacking’s three dimensions.

2) Method is a consensus by which certain practices are considered to have produced facts, and these facts are understood as being there, waiting.

Sociology as another actor (in medicine, in criminology). So, what kind of actor do you want to be, given that you are functioning as another actor. Sociology cannot guide you ethically as you intervene. Internalists can discover “value neutral”, though it depends on what Weber is calling you to. For an Externalist, Weber is recognizing the need for ethical considerations (and since you have these facts, what are you going to do with this ethically).

If method is a conventional understanding, then we need to enroll people to do method another way. Gathering like minded people to advance claims. For an internalist to apply internalist standard to an externalist argument doesn’t work. They can’t talk to one another.

Hackings six grades of construction commitment (p. 19)
A. Historical
1. Argues that X has been constructed over historical
2. X is not inevitable but contingent result of
historical processes — statement (1)
3. No commitment as to whether X is good or bad
4. not much different than just history

B. Ironic
1. shows that something we thought was inevitable is
actually highly contingent, the product of social
history (19-20)
2. yet somehow feels that in our present lives, we are
pretty much forced to accept it (20)

Ironist is much more identifiably a constuctionist. What we think to be inevitable, could be different. Pullman’s His Dark Materials existing in a parallel world (inquisition still happening). Really get an alternative physics that notices different things. Understands things that could have been different. Like Nietzsche – understands genealogy as a succession of roads not taken (that could have been taken). Ironist perceives the dangers of revolution (end up with the gulag).

C. Reformist
1. accepts that X is a bad thing — statement (2)
2. and wants to make it a little less bad

Reformist – once recognizing that something can be different, modify things accordingly. Max Weber’s switchmen of history – revolutionaries want to derail the train.

D. Unmasking
1. wants to undermine ideas by exposing the functions (or
interests) they serve
2. a reformer and an unmasker may be one and the same

Alongside with the reformist. Secret History of the Cancer Wars. “Running for the cure” is dangerous because it takes you in the wrong direction that is positively unproductive. Not that things should be done differently, but this is how things are.

Foucault – pointing out inconvenient facts (Weberian term), which is a way of showing something as different.

E. Rebellious — also accepts statement (3): that X should
be done away with (20)
F. Revolutionary — goes beyond ideas and actually tries to
change the world

How much are you willing to sharpen your guillotine?


Elevator word: “social” “generalizability”

John Searle -rules that only make sense in the context of certain games. “thou shalt not kill… within the ingroup.” Epistemological objective (strikes in Baseball). Ontologically subjective (certain kinds of things – rent for example – only makes sense within complex arrangements). Is it a four-fold table to fill in other categories? Ontological objectivity? Epistemological subjectivity?

Indifferent and interactive – Quarks (p. 30).

Hacking thinks the analogy with baseball did more harm than good. I.e. quarks are not like strikes.
Strikes are “ontologically subjective” — that is, hey would not exist without human rules and ractices but quarks, if they are real, do not depend on us in this way

Perhaps Fish should have said that it is the idea of uarks that was socially constructed. However, Pickering, the author of Constructing Quarks, denies that it is just the idea of them that is constructed. What he meant is, is that if you come at the world in certain way, you can get results that can be construed as evidence for quarks (30, q.v.). Hacking finds this less interesting than the converse claim: if you come at the world a different way, you get evidence for a different, successful physics (31). In effect, what Pickering says is that physics would have evolved in a different way (q.v.) For Hacking, this is a highly significant issue:

1. most physicists think that the road taken was inevitable
2. for the social constructavist, on the other hand, a successful science could have developed along an
entirely different path (32-33, q.v.)
3. for Hacking, this disagreement whether there is something contingent about the development of science
is sticking point # 1 in the science wars (more in chapter 3).

Interactions (31)
He’s given several examples how ideas or classifications and objects interact with each other
1. child viewer of television or 2. woman refugee. One obvious way in which these classifications interact with their objects is that these are classifications of people, who are aware of how they are being classified (31-32). But, also of course, inanimate objects are not aware of how they are being classified, and hence do not interact with their classifications (32)

D. interactive kinds
1. classifications of people are interactive kinds because they interact of things with that kind
2. only classifications in the social sciences are interactive kinds, not those in the natural sciences

Indifferent classifications. Quarks are there whether you know about them or not. America was always there. To hold out the category of indifferent classifications is to hold out a bit of internalism. Microbes were always there – they were also interactive (antibiotic resistant infections – came to be due to human intervention). Indifferent and interactive.

Veran: can you do more than decompose? How would she have done “the arithmetic logic” multiple?

Psychopathologies: indifferent and interactive. Biolooping? Thinking about more psychological diseases? Autism wars? ADHD wars?

Main critique of construction: one way street. “it’s social construction” is taken to be the answer for everything. Right, what is the research project. Just identifying it as a construction isn’t particularly interesting. It ignores that 1) construction is two way. Stories: two ways: people make up stories and stories make up people. The interaction determines the physical realities. At this point in time, each is causing the other to be. For those two way things, the metaphor isn’t useful; it tends to get you to see “people constructing X” – X is taken as “the construction of” – people being constructed by the whatevers. Tends to lose the subtlety of interactive classifications. The usefulness of the metaphor comes in Fleck – shows how syphilis is constructed in laboratory practices. Not trying to unmask syphilis.

Worldmaking: Nelson Goodman’s “Ways of World-making.”

Child abuse: if new kinds are selected, then the past can occur in a new world. Description of a bad historical fiction. Ways that we can think about. Perpetually re-reading the past. Capable of re-feeling events in ways that heal. That make these things livable by re-feeling them within this new framework. A lot of what social science does is to re-describe. The power of re-descriptions that provide for re-feeling is to experience a sense of injustice where, at the time, no injustice was felt. In re-feeling it, it comes off as unjust.

The social sciences are thus inherently an ethical practice.  The point is that the value-laden work that sociology has a claim to is accepting that its classifications evaluate who is troubling or in trouble. (p. 131). Two responses: 1. get those responses out 2. this is part of the deal, What is left if you try to be value free? How do we become accountable for the moral implcations of our classifications and incorporate that into our writing?

Kinds are always motley kinds. Think of fabrication mechanisms (Latour). Motley sampling? Loose assumption that these are people that count as X. The sociologist is taking on a lot of the fabrication work.

The motto is “motley.” p. 133 The fundamental question is what those kinds do to us? If what the course is teaching you is we need to look at who makes the world up in what kinds? By asking this question, we have to engage the six grades simultaneously.

Live Blogging: Stories, Texts and Technoscience (1)

Social constructionist stuff (interpersonal, relational, ethical), but hive off the “medical” stuff (natural, factual, the scientific)

The difference is that the uncertainties are all waiting for further research to get “the answer” – yet (the key word). The social/bioethical/organizational remains open to change. Rock solid knowledge vs. shifting sands, and the world is divided between them.

It is thus difficult to escape this dichotomizing.

For example, illness vs. disease. Disease has a natural reoccurring, objective, whereas the illness is all the lived experience etc. Some form of this dichotomization is hard to overcome.

Naturalism vs. Phenomenological (Alfred Schutz). At most, people in the 1960s were willing to grant this difference. Naturalism was defended as being amenable to the positivism, seeking to uncover “facts.” Once you discovered them correctly, they were the essential properties of things. On the other hand, the ever changing world of impressions, meanings. How people feel about things, and end up with this bifurcation.

Even then, this bifurcation was objected to. 1890s, read Husserl’s logical investigations (beginning of phenomenology): there isn’t two spheres, even the work of math is the work of consciousness. The intentional relation to the world is total. Always relating the world. Phenomenology along the way tended to lose that and hold out for the smaller piece of the pie. The deal that certain spheres were appropriate to the “soft sciences” – that very term designed to mark this bifurcation. Science of the natural world – clear, objective. Otherwise, studying ourselves. We can be good instruments of observation, but we become compromised observers when we are looking at ourselves.

This course looks at the adequacy of this deal. If we refuse this split, refuse to hive off the “medical” or the “physics” and insist on a unity of these things, what are the implications? What does this mean for our methods, the crucial part involving the claims you can make proceeding this way. The culmination is some number of claims for what it is that a work of social science advances.

The claim may be “I went there, this is what I saw” – or – “this is the causal relationship” – but at the end of the day, you are making some kind of claim. The whole point of methodology is how you support your claim to be credible, compelling – readable (as opposed to objectionable).

Refuse this old fashioned split. Goes way back.


Leviathan and the Air Pump by Shapin and Schaffer

In the aftermath of the English Civil War, as people were groping for new forms of political order, Robert Boyle built an air-pump to do exper­iments. Does the story of Roundheads and Restoration have something to do with the origins of experimental sci­ence? Schaffer and Shapin believed it does.

Focusing on the debates between Boyle and his archcritic Thomas Hobbes over the air-pump, the authors proposed that “solutions to the problem of knowledge are solutions to the problem of social order.” Both Boyle and Hobbes were looking for ways of establishing knowledge that did not decay into ad hominem attacks and political division. Boyle proposed the experiment as cure. He argued that facts should be manufactured by machines like the air-pump so that gentlemen could witness the experiments and produce knowledge that everyone agreed on. Hobbes, by contrast, looked for natural law and viewed experiments as the artificial, unreliable products of an exclusive guild.

The new approaches taken in Leviathan and the Air-Pump have been enormously influential on historical studies of science. Shapin and Schaffer found a moment of scientific revolution and showed how key scientific givens–facts, interpretations, experiment, truth–were fundamental to a new political order. Shapin and Schaffer were also innovative in their ethnographic approach. Attempting to understand the work habits, rituals, and social structures of a remote, unfamiliar group, they argued that politics were tied up in what scientists did, rather than what they said.

People didn’t stay in the boxes that we put them into. They did a little of everything.


Epistemology vs Ontology

Epistemology: the study of how we know. How is knowledge possible? It is a Platonic concern (the climax of the Republic, Plato speaking through Socrates presents a hierarchy of the sciences, the knowledge of “essences” at the top and phenomenology is at the bottom. Impressions are the work of little people who go through live unseriously)

Ontology: the problem of being. What are the different kinds of being. What is it to be? Heidegger – why is their being at all, as opposed to simply non being.

These are regarded as distinct, but gradually merged into ontological and epistemological questions.

First question: What is a fact?

This is the message of Ludwik Fleck in Genesis and Development of Scientific Facts.

Prior thought: Facts were there, waiting to be discovered (science). How can there be genesis and development? What does it imply for the kind of science that participates in and studies processes for producing facts (the Platonist is tearing his hair out). Facts aren’t produced! They are RECOGNIZED! iPod’s are produced! Facts aren’t iPods! Facts are either right or wrong, and invariant. What extent can we think of them as being produced.

Second question: What do we mean by social construction?

Social science don’t examine how the mountains came to be, study how the ski resort did. Pretty clear the difference. In some ways “social construction” is the rational for the social sciences: we study what people put together (prison, philosophy, works of art).

What gets constructed? What doesn’t? What is this process of construction about? All of which will lead us to the limits of construction as a metaphor (and clearly it is a metaphor). In reading Hacking’s Social Construction of What?, looking at the sociology of the sciences vs. Latour. Hacking finds Latour a bit of a gadfly, and his project is to contrast. (Interesting that Hacking got the Foucault chair instead of Latour).

Third question: Helen Verran’s ethnography Science and an African Knowledge (Admired by John Law) is the core activity of social science. Methods get themselves in trouble because they are not grounded in ethnography. “You gotta know the territory” – this is ethnography – the vocabulary, the practice of the people you are engaged in studying. Requires spending time “there.” Feeling what it is to be “there.” The trouble with other methodologies is the short cuts.

Ethnography of knowledge, what people know and how they reproduce that knowledge. Fleck: why do we need a notion of an invariant? Verran’s book is a response to this.

Finally: How do we understand stories as actors? As a non-human actor. Think of Harroway’s companion species manifesto. Humans breed companion species to do certain kinds of work for people. A dog is not a naturally occuring entity. Dogs are, in a sense, socially constructed. Humans exist in our form due to the work of our companion species. The herding, plowing that dogs, horses, oxen. We are of the stature we are because of our companion species. They have created us.

Mutually dependent autonomy. (Art Frank). This is the oxymoron related to stories. Stories need humans for telling, but humans may need stories even more for all kinds of telling found in the world. What are stories among other kinds of narrative? What are the work they do as a companion species? How do stories make life social, given that life only becomes social from doing various kinds of things. In doing these kinds of things, they make use of non-human actors. Non-human actors take up the relays, and life becomes social in these relays. The non-human actors are crucial in taking up the relays. Stories return us to the same questions. How do they work in terms of social construction? How are stories a problem for methodology – how do you go about studying them.


Four ideas of Actor-Network theory (ANT).

Some theory/methods where the name is decided by the founder – example, institutional ethnography is Dorothy’s term. In ANT, there isn’t a clear founder, and there is controversy in the title, and so it is up for grabs. Anglo ANT vs. Franco ANT (but in Franco, Callon’s ANT is a variant from Latour’s ANT).

1. Assembling

There are no groups, only perpetual acts of assemblage. Groups are always doing the work of keeping the group together. The proper study of sociology is not to take the group as a pre-existing, instead, what has to be studied is the work that is done to hold the group together, and with what kind of “stickyness.” What does this stickyness accomplish?

The social, for Latour, is always in the act of assembling, and there is no thing in “the social.” The social is always going on, and the work of social science is to drop in and see how it is proceeding, and getting done in particular times and places.

Fabrication mechanisms. The world is full of these, as this is what makes the world social. They are mechanisms, techniques, technologies that fabricate. Turn thread into fabric that holds together. Whatever you got is a fabrication: what are the mechanisms that do the building. The holding together.

The trouble with “system” is that once upon a time it was fabricated, and then continues un-manned. One decided upon design that we can admire. Elias: no system, processes. The processes are always a near-thing. Every act of fabricating has a potential to failure. Often much closer to falling apart. Whatever it is, it is the work of fabricating, and they either work r they don’t.

One reason to believe this: Decline of Nixon, breaking up of the Soviet Union. You always expected the country to be there. Can’t take seriously the problem of holding this thing together. Still living in this fall out. These have undermined the sense of solidity. See things as more transient, even things that appear “there” in “reality.” If people don’t get up every day and do the maintenance work in keeping relationships whole, then things fall apart.

Fleck: the sea, a definitional point, the lowest collection point of the sea. Paddle to the Sea. Sea is the end point. But this isn’t so, no boundaries between one ocean and another. The ocean is that which water descends to. How it got there isn’t an issue, it is what it is.

Elias: Process sociology, a course and a sequel to Elias. As opposed to Durkheim who hovers at the edge of this (but he wants to see things in and of themselves, remove the process).

The research question: whatever you are studying, what are the fabrication mechanisms. How is the assembling done, with what? Takes us back to the non-human actors. In this department, the assembling is done by email, reminding us that we are part of the same assemblage. The relays are taken up by electronic messaging.

2. Controversy.

The best time to study something is the moment of controversy. Relations that otherwise get passed into un-observability become visible.

What does the moment of controversy allow us to see? Allows us to see the relevant actors, what the relays are, what the translation of locally produced realities to other sites. A site is a locality that produces reality. Sites are “hooked up” with other sites, which requires translation. How are issues in one site translated into other sites?

3. Translation

Sociology of translation, the core of ANT. Not translation in the sense of language, we call it this, you call it that. Translation reflects different forms of life. Mol: find different forms of life. People are living differently. Words are inherently tied to different forms of life. The social is translation of power, because one sites version wins out over another sites.

How does a reality produced in one site made compatible (for what practical purposes) with contrasting and contesting versions of that same thing produced in other sites. Have all these sites, all producing realities. These sites have to hook up to be made compatible. This can fail (crucial).

4. Distribution of action

Sociology of distributed action. How is action distributed, and with what (companion species). If you have a sheep dog, you are distributing the action of herding the sheep. Disabilities studies: various aides: perpetually breaking down, having to be renewed, always controversies about how the action is distributed. Under no illusion that they are acting themselves. “I am actually doing this.” Need something to help get it done, and acutely aware of how it changes their purpose in the course of using this.

All of this goes back to: is the table an actor? Yes, but until there is a controversy surrounding it, it will be impossible to study it because it won’t say anything. It leaves no traces. We go back to controversies, because action tends to be distributed so thoughtlessly until we get the disruption. Until we get new tools (like a new table), the distribution is hard to get at.

ANT is important because we live in a world that is the upgrade society. A new iPod every 14 months. We are having to perpetually redistribute our action through new relays that impose themselves on us. “Didn’t you get my message?” The world we are a part of. ANT is perfect for a world where the relays change every 18th month. \

How does action get distributed, and though what? What are the effects of these distribution actors? MSN, Email, Canada Post: what are the effects of these in SHAPING what proceeds. We don’t just breed dogs: they breed us. How does an actor come to be as it is, as a result of how its action is distributed. The way we are depends on HOW we are.

Latour’s opposition to “textbook science” – removes the process.

Art’s supervisor at Yale.


Wasserman Reaction: a blood test to detect Syphilis. Entity is present or not present. Syphilis already exists. A positive reaction, and therefore (?) syphilitic impression.

Certain, yes. Just relatively certain. Like to think they are certain that the airplane will stay in the air. Not – they are relatively certain.

Journal science still presents controversies. The textbook science comes up with consensus statements. A problem is discussed from the journal articles, and at the end you have a panel who put together a consensus statement that will issue a statement that will help sort out differences of opinions. This then has evidentially power that is one greater than a journal articles. Similar to meta-analysis. Decide what to keep and what to throw out – how to synthesize the results of this to tell you if these are true, reliable or evidence based.

Theories are not disproven – the thought collective moves on. (They rust).

Fleck could be used as a companion to Wittgenstein (specifically, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus)

“Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it–or at least similar thoughts.–So it is not a textbook.–Its purpose would be achieved if it gave pleasure to one person who read and understood it. The book deals with the problems of philosophy, and shows, I believe, that the reason why these problems are posed is that the logic of our language is misunderstood.

The whole sense of the book might be summed up the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence. Thus the aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather–not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought). It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense. I do not wish to judge how far my efforts coincide with those of other philosophers.

Indeed, what I have written here makes no claim to novelty in detail, and the reason why I give no sources is that it is a matter of indifference to me whether the thoughts that I have had have been anticipated by someone else. I will only mention that I am indebted to Frege’s great works and of the writings of my friend Mr Bertrand Russell for much of the stimulation of my thoughts. If this work has any value, it consists in two things: the first is that thoughts are expressed in it, and on this score the better the thoughts are expressed–the more the nail has been hit on the head—the greater will be its value.–Here I am conscious of having fallen a long way short of what is possible. Simply because my powers are too slight for the accomplishment of the task.–May others come and do it better.

On the other hand the truth of the thoughts that are here communicated seems to me unassailable and definitive. I therefore believe myself to have found, on all essential points, the final solution of the problems. And if I am not mistaken in this belief, then the second thing in which the value of this work consists is that it shows how little is achieved when these problem are solved.”

How does this empirical fact originate? In what does it consist? We get a notion of science: immediately social. You may need a sociologist EVEN MORE for what is taken to be “the medical stuff.” Science is thought communities/styles.  The issue (similar to Foucaults discourse) is what can be thought in that way. A class is this sense vs. a traditional methods class.

The whole ideas that there are alternative viewpoints (Gestalt). The theory constructs the gestalt to see things the way we do (p. 144 – readiness for directed perception). Latour – not relativism (one as good as the next – not what Mol says in a Hospital – in a Path lab, due to the tools they use, they have a capacity for directed reception). Latour – relativity – different things in different part of the hospital.

Not saying Syphilis is an ideal creation – it is just needs to be understood as getting there from a history. Kuhn (p. 9). Only able to see a duck or a rabbit, couldn’t see the lines on the page. In some ways, what ANT is about is seeing the lines on a page – what social life is about is about seeing ducks and rabbits. We need to see ducks and rabbits.  He is paying the ultimate compliment to Fleck in seeing only the lines on a page. Before you see syphilis from a blood test.

P. 50: Would it be entirely possible to proceed without something that is fixed? Both thinking and facts are changeable – changes in thinking manifest themselves in changed facts (also: new facts discovered only by new thinking.

The world wants it fixed; in terms of how it really works. Sociology is split between either those who line up behind one another.

Why can’t there be a conversation?  Doing without a fixed point vs. not needing one. Needing a “GENERAL THEORY” – so 20th century. Can’t get interested.