While STS is an interdisciplinary project, STS academics still remain grounded in their discipline, bringing their disciplinary concerns, theories, and methodologies with them into their STS work. Anthropologist Sarah Franklin has written a 1995 review article that brings out the concerns of STS academics in the 1990s, which provides a historical snapshot of the field. A review article is a “state of the field” statement, written for those within the field. It is a good source for bibliographic information, and maps out the general history of STS thinking (given the time it was written). Note that Franklin does not go as far back as some of the anthropologists that Tambiah will discuss; this is because she is more concerned with the rise of STS, which traces back to Popper, Kuhn, and other fields such as history of science, and philosophy of science. Anthropology has become part of STS through the ways discussed by Franklin.
Science Wars: Science wars emerged in the intellectual conflict of the 1990s, coming from the rise of postmodern theory and the increasing dominance of relativism. This relativism provoked a response by scientists that Franklin says is highly indicative of what should be studied. In examining the position critical of STS, Franklin writes:
That science should be subjected to a form of critical social scientific inquiry challenging the supposed neutrality and transparency of objective scientific inquiry is, in their view, “the manifestation of a certain intellectual debility afflicting the academy.” This “leftist” infestation is, in their estimation, matched only in subversiveness by the fact that scholarship of this variety is ‘being taught – increasingly – in university classes’ ” (Franklin 1995:164)
The scientists critical of STS were specifically responding to the ‘social construction’ of science (and all of reality) within STS (see the optional Sismondo article for a review of this perspective; we will run into it again when we read the Shapin and Schaffer, which was also written in this time period). From the anthropological perspective, Franklin argues that the attack on STS by scientists and other proponents of science as objective comes from deeply felt cultural values; the objectivity of science (and by extension of scientists) was extensively defended because, as Franklin notes, science as a human practice is cultural (Franklin 1995:165). Sismondo (2007) describes this as the emergence of a historical epistemology of science and technology, where the results coming out of the laboratory are now seen as products of history and culture itself, and not purely as natural. STS itself is part of wider geopolitical, cultural, and economic shifts that de-centered Western ethnocentric perspectives on science and technology, a legacy that continues to be contested in our continuing ‘culture wars.’
Nature vs. Culture. Anthropology, with its empirically-grounded fieldwork methodology that emphasizes the contingency of the local, brought its detailed studies of the sites of science (laboratories, company board rooms, etc.) and its theoretical concerns with issues of power, inequality, and identity to STS. One major area that feminist anthropology focused in on was the problem of nature (or the old nature vs. culture debate). In anthropology, this originated in anthropology’s focus on kinship and the family as a theoretical concern, since anthropologists found many different cultural configurations of family, marriage, and kinship in different parts of the world. Such different cultural configurations forced an examination of biological vs. cultural origins for how people understood family relationships. Marilyn Strathern in particular is a pivotal figure in the increasing separation of nature from culture (this is what she means in discussing genealogy):
“Genealogy is naturalized. The ‘natural’ family is born, and with it, the natural relative: a vulgarity to Victorians who saw the family as a moral institution and resisted its depiction as part of nature. With the natural family, the natural relative, and the personalization of these depictions, there emerges a specific concept of the natural, one that can ‘stand for itself’ as a domain of immutable, fixed, law-like propensities so that it has become common-sensical to describe the ‘real’ parent as the ‘biological’ one” (Franklin 1995:171).
The conclusions reached by feminist anthropologists pushed our understanding of the social and cultural changes caused by science and technology. For example, Donna Haraway’s concept of cyborg subjectivity (which we will read in more detail later in the semester) applied not only to women, but to all people.
Laboratory as Fieldsite. The method of fieldwork grounded in a specific locality (whether that space be physical or virtual) is what binds together anthropology as an academic discipline. As a result, detailed, empirical studies of the localities of science (laboratories, colleges/universities, businesses, governmental offices, etc.) is a key contribution of anthropology to STS. By doing ethnographies of the laboratory (a symbolic representation of these disparate localities of science), anthropologists can better understand the culture of science. Instead of going somewhere exotic to do fieldwork on a ‘tribe,’ anthropologists turned their gaze to scientists. One classic study of the laboratory as fieldsite is Sharon Traweek’s study of Japanese and American physicists. Traweek found that despite cultural differences, both Japanese and Americans scientists shared a similar culture as physicists, where culture is seen as ‘local strategies of making sense.’ This globalized culture of physicists can be in their shared goals, codes of conducts, understanding of time and space (such as access to the particle accelerators, “beamtimes”).
Anthropologists have also looked as the flip side of the ‘culture of science’ – the cultural response of non-professional scientists. I myself have written about this issue in 2003 as scientism. Franklin writes: “… science studies scholars have examined public skepticism toward science, counterposing the view from within science against those of audiences or communities excluded from it” (Franklin 1995:176). This approach emphasizes science and technology as an exercise of power, where social and cultural hierarchies are naturalized within specific historical, political, and economic contexts. This is the point brought out by Arturo Escobar in his seminal 1994 discussion of cyberspace. The concept of biosociality, stemming from Michel Foucault’s examination of the social impact of science, highlights the role that science and technology plays in creating hierarchy: “sociobiology, the social project of reengineering society on scientific principle (i.e. culture modeled on nature), to biosociality, a culturalization of the natural, in which it becomes artificial, and is remade as technique” (Franklin 1995:177).