"Agential Realism; Feminist Interventions in Understanding Scientific
To posit realism and social construction as opposites, one must first posit a dualism; to escape dualism altogether, to "simultaneously recognize" the material and the discursive, one must understand "scientific practices [as] intra-actions of multiple material discursive apparatuses, including but not limited to the instrumentation employed:" this is Barad's non-dualist "agential realism," a "feminist intervention between realists and social constructivists." Barad glosses Niels Bohr's readings of the interaction between object and apparatus and suggests that he, too, found a dualism which separated the operation of apparatuses, the apparatuses themselves, and the thing being observed, untenable, unable to capture phenomena accurately. Barad references Haraway, Callon, Latour and her own forthcoming work. While the notes add needed depth to the article's argument, in this condensed version Barad leaves some unanswered questions: for example "material-discursive apparatus" is used to mean "thing," "set of practices" and "ideas about practice." Can a useful definition be so broadly construed? Agential realism assumes non-human agency -- gravity, microbes, computers -- that is to say, messy unequal unpredictable power relations between researchers and the world (as when a vulcanologist doesn't come home) but nowhere is an argument proposed which advances the reasons why agential realism is a better alternative than the dualism she wishes to escape.
"Aporias of Scientific Authorship; Credit and Responsibility in Contemporary
The two systems of rewards -- scientific credit (tenure and grants) and the market economy (private ownership and responsibility) -- run in parallel; however, corporate contemporary biomedicine has challenged the scientific credit system in which a single scientist uncovers an original truth belonging to the public domain. The new nature of research includes analysis of data as "piece-work;" a team of specialists each knowledgeable in a narrow area and unable to evaluate each other's work; and projects managed by a scientist who is not involved in design, analysis, or write-up of the work. These aspects contrast sharply with the ICMJE rules for authorship, intellectual property laws, and the standard academic advancement process. Biagioli's work is based on readings in secondary sources about "the literary author" and readings in primary sources about biomedical and scientific authorship debates. Biagioli feels that a new definition of scientific authorship is needed but will not (and cannot) be found by making the lines between the two systems of rewards more rigid.
"The Specificity of the Scientific Field and the Social Conditions of
the Progess of Reason"
"The sociology of science is so difficult only because the sociologist has a stake in the game he undertakes to describe (first the scientificity of the sociology and secondly the scientificity of the form of sociology which he practices) and because he cannot objectify what is at stake, and the corresponding strategies, unless he takes as his object not simply the strategies of his scientific rivals, but the game as such, which governs his own strategies too and is always liable to exert an insidious influence on his sociology." It may be a sense that paraphrasing the translator (Mr. Nice) may be an injustice to him or to Bourdieu; it may be a weariness of spirit at the finding oneself reflected endlessly in the doubled mirrors of social construction; it is certainly an argument I fear I can advance no more ably by summing up than by quoting, as above. However, a few details may be added. Bourdieu argues that scientific practices and problems are shaped and even contaminated by by potential rewards and not by immanent unexplored areas; that scientists struggle for the power to impose a definition of science beneficial to their own practices (social scientists hovering like Lord Chesterfield waiting for Johnson to finish the dictionary); that risky investments in long-term research can only be taken by those with accumulated scientific capital; that scientists may follow risk-free succession strategies or risker subversion strategies; that scientific revolutions are best understood as market revolution led by those "richest" in scientific capital (not as a change in the fundamental assumptions that hold up inside and outside the scienfitic pale); and finally that scientists need non-scientists and "false scientists" to define themselves. Among others, Bourdieu references T. S. Kuhn and G. Bachelard's Le Materialism Rationnel. In Bourdieu's story something of the "mighty financier" myth seems to have been applied to scientists; I suggest that seeing scientists as titan agonists, as capitalists, as political agents, as hopelessly emeshed in their own complicated games, maybe accords them too glowing, too golden, and aura of power and tragedy.
"Muscles and Engines; Indicator Diagrams and Helmholtz's Graphical Methods"
Robert M. Brain
M. Norton Wise
Herman Helmholtz's work in physiology and physics was linked to the industrial and military culture of the 1840s Berlin and was informed by his understanding of James Watt's indicator diagrams as well as his use of Carl Ludwig's kymograph. Helmholtz, taking as an article of faith the conservation of forc (vis viva) and the prohibition of perpetual motion, used Carnot diagrams (indicator diagrams) to demonstrate that heat is converted into mechanical work. Seeking for an instrument able to measure the work of muscles while accounting for the effect of rest and excitation, he used a self-designed myograph and a ballistic galvanometer. Primary German sources inform this article and demonstrate how Helmholtz captured the interest and support of young members of the Berlin Physical Society. This article suggests to me that it would be interesting to know if and when other industrial tools were applied to investigations into human abilities and limitations.
"Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation; Domestication of the Scallops
and the Fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay"
By weaving together the scallops in the St. Brieuc bay, French fishermen and French scientists into a actor-network, Callon demonstrates how his sociological framework offers a new look at the process of creating alliances of interested parties and the process of creating accepted scientific truth. Creating an actor-network requires translation and enrollment; hence Callon first gathers up four movements of translation (1) naming and creating the problem (overfishing) (2) defining the parties interested in a solution (scallops, fishermen, scientists) (3) defining oneself and one's practices as indispensable to the parties interested in a solution (new science from Japan) and (4) creating a system which locks the allies into a single solution (large collectors). Callon also described in greater detail the second effort, enrollment of actors behind an "elected" representative, and the final episode, the collapse of the network into antagonists -- unanchored scallop larvae, fishermen with stolen half-mature scallops, and the scientists with an unfinished and ruined project on the scallop life cycle. As this is a primary study, read through his own theoretical framework, Callon merely advances the arguments of the article in his notes. Reading non-humans as agents -- scallops who "vote with their feet" -- remains, for this reader, more amusing than convincing, but translation and enrollment are readily applicable to other cases (memory in planarium worms) and allow for another understanding of how and when scientists "succeed" at science.
"What Are We Thinking About When We are Thinking About Computers?"
Turkle presents an array of studies in which (mostly) children explore
the rules of a defined environment, the creation of identity, and the definition
of life. She suggests that children who have grown up with computational
objects don't feel the need to define life as exclusively biological, the
self as unitary, or an environment as more than surface. Life can
be defined through replication and evolution; the self can be multiple,
fragments of expression suited for particular moods, places and times,
and in a new environment, pausing to look over READ ME texts is less useful
than simply interacting with the rules as they unfold. Turkle is
recounting her own research and conclusions, but she references, as one
might expect, Piaget.
Turkle's work is fascinating and disturbing: children turn "dichotomy into a menu and cycle through its choices." While reading, I was reminded of the (in)famous scene of Terminator in which the camera's point of view suddenly switches to the robot's point of view, a red screen slides over the scene, and Schwartzennegger's character considers a menu of responses to an annoying hotel clerk. To the transgressive delight of the audience, the Terminator selects the rudest of the choices. The scene captures precisely the distance/dichotomy and menu, Turkle 's children so easily negotiate.
"The Mangle of Practics: Agency and Emergence in the Sociology
By calling the structure of scientific practice a "mangle," Pickering accomplishes three goals : first, he captures the dialectic between "resistance" and "accommodation" in technological development; second, he accounts for the posthumanist displacement of our interpretive frameworks; and third he is able to conceptualize temporally emergent phenomena. (It might be that these three tasks appear more urgent to sociologists than the rest of us....) Pickering presents the mangle through the experiences of Donald Glaser (who preferred the freedom of a small lab) with and Luis Alvarez (who organized a large and well-staffed lab) in building a "successful" particle-tracking bubble chamber. In short, Glaser encountered resistances from humans and non-humans alike and altered his practices accordingly, ending up in not quite the small space or freedom of situation that he had originally wanted. Pickering prefers an account which allows but does not over-emphasize Glaser's agency, rather framing Glaser's work as a struggle between human and material (synchronic) constraints and (diachronic) resistances. Pickering references Latour, Law, and Callon with whom his ideas have some commonality, although in his notes he take issue with a strict human/non-human symmetry. Pickering's idea of constraints might be usefully related to W. Bernard Carlson's mental frames (the Edison article).
"Pictures, Texts and Objects: The Literary Language Game of Bird
Michael Lynch and John Law
Bird watching might have been invented for social scientists, so well does it lend itself to analysis and discussion. First, there is the opportunity for novices to learn from experts what key features constitute "epistemological duckness;" then there are the contested lists of sightings to govern what can or should be seen in a given area; and to top it off, there are rival books with varying ways to help the watcher ("twitcher") know how to know. Possible realities are mediated through knowledgeable experts, through expectations of the present and possible, and through the watcher's own preference for Platonic or photographic realism. Through an engagingly broad set of literary and art references, as well as wryly recounted examples, Law and Lynch argue that bird watching encapsulates the "network of categories, associations and activities" that characterize scientific practice in general. When they invite their readers to the field with a list of activities to try out, this reader, anyway, smiled, put the book down, and went outside to watch ospreys fly across the marshes.
Was the Last Turn the Right Turn?: The Semiotic Turn and A. J.
Lenoir surveys the recent writings of Latour, Akrich, Haraway and N. Katherine Hughes, tracing their theories of semiotics to the source, structuralist semiotician A. J. Greimas. Lenoir suggests that since Greimas based his work on the idea of nuclear memes and developed a "rigid" semiotic square of meaning, his is potentially an embarrassing ally for post-structuralists. Lenoir does think that semiotics could be promising if it focuses not on structures but on how individual signs become calcified by the contingencies of history (299) He prefers the thick analysis of particular objects such as Haraway's discussion of the Gulf Oil advertisement "Understanding is Everything." An open question for me: does the field of semiotics lend itself to the description of contingencies and calcifications?
"In the Beginning Was the Word"
Lily E. Kay
Kay argues that biologists using "'information' as a metaphor for biological specificity" are constructing a metaphor of a metaphor, a signifier without a referent. She calls this connection "exceptionally rich" in symbolism, serving not only to as analogy but also as ontology. Kay follows the historical progression of metaphors for Nature: a book, a secret code, a generative grammar and as a computer code, an information storage and transfer system. However, she notes problems with the metaphors: first, how can information be passed along without "consciousness or subject?' (229) Second, the genetic code simply does not function as a code so much as a table of not-quite-systematic correlations. Third, and most difficult: a written document has an author, or in this case Author -- presumably pre-existent and outside of human consciousness. "As Derrida (and more generally poststructuralism) has done in problematizing the notion of a linguistic "system," several life scientists have been doing for biological systems in their theory of autopoeisis ("self-production"). For what characterizes all living things is that they are continually self-producing according to their internal rules and requirements, thus blurring a clear distinction between "inside" and "outside," between "closed" and "open." Information, according to theses revisions, is not a prespecified quantity which exists independently in the world acting as input in the genomic system; rather the "meaning" of that "information" is continuously adjusted, not only by the contextualities within the system but also by the interaction between the inside and outside of the system. (230) Kay asks "what are the boundaries of the system being circumscribed by the metaphor?” Or to put the problem in another way, just what other agencies besides human can there be?
Some definitions to explore further:
Synchronic and diachronic linkages
diachronic: pertaining to the time of the earth's existence
catechresis: a mixed metaphor