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 Andrew Pickering on Cybernetics, Society, Technology, etc.

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Join date : 2009-10-19

PostSubject: Andrew Pickering on Cybernetics, Society, Technology, etc.   Wed 01 Aug 2012, 2:13 pm

Sketches of Another Future
An Interview with Professor Andrew Pickering, University of Exeter, author of The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future

"For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root."
David Thoreau (1817-1862)
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Posts : 1611
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PostSubject: Re: Andrew Pickering on Cybernetics, Society, Technology, etc.   Wed 01 Aug 2012, 2:21 pm

Science as Practice and Culture. Edited by Andrew Pickering.
Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1992. Pp. 474. $65.00.
Susan A. Farrell
Queens College, CUNY

Andrew Pickering has brought together in this volume the latest work
on the sociology of scientific knowledge. This collection highlights two
major perspectives on studies of science: science as knowledge and sci-
ence as practice. The book is divided into two sections-part 1, "Posi-
tions," and part 2, "Arguments"-and has an excellent introduction by
the editor. Pickering clearly lays out the historical development of the
sociology of scientific knowledge, both the American Mertonian tradition
and the newer approaches influenced by British and Continental think-
ers. His summary provides an excellent backdrop for the arguments of
part 2 which is made up of contributions from participants in the major
debates in this field. Michael Lynch lays out a fundamental critique of
the Mertonian approach as well as showing linkages between Bloor's
interpretation of Wittgenstein and the ethnomethodological, construc-
tionist approach. Various authors, including Bloor himself, as well as
Bruno Latour and Michael Callon, respond to critiques of their work.
This inter- and intradisciplinary dialogue demonstrates how scientific
knowledge is constructed, maintained, and becomes part of the culture.
These theoretical essays are the foundations for the empirical research
presented in part 1. I might have reversed the order, but the book works
well either way.

Part 1 consists of case studies of researchers studying other researchers.
These in-depth analyses of laboratories, experiments, scientific discover-
ies, past and present, uncover the taken-for-granted, everyday life and
culture of science. Just to touch on a few points made in most of the
essays, rather than the usual myth of the solitary scientist, the essayists
present a picture of collaboration. Experiments and discoveries as well
as language and disciplinary boundaries are the result of collective prac-
tices that require the "coordination and management of work across
multiple and divergent actors, social worlds, meanings, and uses in pro-
ducing science" (p. 169).

According to Karin Knorr Cetina, laboratories are not isolated environ-
ments but reflect the varied aspects of the field as well as remaining
linked with the external world. She studies the laboratory worlds of social
science and natural science to bring "to the fore the full spectrum of
activities involved in the production of knowledge" (p. 115). Each disci-
pline shapes the form and content of the laboratory. Ultimately, ac-
cording to Knorr Cetina, experimental reality is "a technology of repre-
sentation" (p. 124). Moving to a postmodernist stand, she carefully shows
through research on molecular genetics how "experimentation deploys
and implements a technology of intervention" (p. 126). In this field, there
is no assumption that anything corresponds to "natural events" or some
abstract notion of "reality." But the actual processes are often trans-
formed into positivist language that hides or mystifies research as it is
actually practiced. Knorr Cetina calls this a "reconfiguration"which she
deconstructs through the use of semiotics as well as by careful observation
of laboratory research in the traditional mode.

Using cancer research as an example, Joan Fujimura illustrates how
laboratory research (the workplace) interfaces with the multiple social
worlds. To clarify how the interface works, she makes use of the concept
of "standardized packages, which facilitates both collective work by
members of different social worlds and fact stabilization" (p. 176). A
semiotic perspective is also needed here to understand the transforma-
tions of disparate disciplinary modes into a common understanding of,
in this case, oncogene theory. The researchers install "their theories,
inscriptions and materials into . . . ongoing lines of research" that have
already been set up and stabilized and then "these collective construc-
tions are packaged together" as representations "to enroll other research-
ers, biological supply companies, the National Cancer Institute, the
American Cancer Society, members of Congress, and the Nobel Prize
Committee" (pp. 203-4).

Pickering and Adam Stephanides make a foray into the history of
mathematics to "do a careful anthropological study" of the process of
modeling to demonstrate the dialectical relationship between resistance
and accommodation that results in the acceptance of one way of doing
algebra and geometry over another. Foregrounding choice, chance, and
contingency in the relationship between two different approaches to
mathematics, the authors illustrate the culturally situated aspect of even
something thought to be so abstract and beyond historicity as mathemat-
ics (p. 164).

One minor disappointment is the lack of acknowledgment of the femi-
nist research in this area which has been going on for some time. Those
familiar with this rich body of literature may find some of the theoretical
material to be somewhat commonplace. I would recommend this book
not only for those interested in and teaching courses in the sociology of
scientific knowledge but even for those teaching courses in the broader
area of the sociology of knowledge. I also think that this book could be
a valuable tool for teaching research methods. The essays in part 1 are
exemplary in their formulations of research aims and methods.

"For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root."
David Thoreau (1817-1862)
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