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 (as we talked about with the Sismondo article). 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 (we will be reading a part of this later in the semester). 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).
In the social sciences, Pierre Bourdieu was extremely influential; his models of cultural capital, power, and practice (society and culture emerge from doing) continue to influence how people in the social sciences think today. In terms of understanding science and technology, Bourdieu’s main point is that the social context of science is crucial in understanding how science as a field works, which can be seen in how scientists themselves work. In explaining how science works, Bourdieu also explains why science needs objectivity for the legitimation of its authority.
In the article that you read for today, Bourdieu makes 6 points that explains the social context for science – how science really works, from the perspective of scientists’ actions throughout their professional careers.
- Science is a competitive struggle over scientific authority. In a nutshell, Bourdieu’s social models are an application of Marxist economic theory into the realm of society and culture. If in Marxist theory, the goal of individuals in a market economy is to accumulate economic capital, in society and culture, the goal is to accumulate social and cultural capital. Like in the market economy, however, the game is rigged by the various rules of the game; and like any game, she who makes the rules, wins. In science, as Bourdieu writes, “the scientific field itself produces and presupposes a specific form of interest” (Bourdieu 1999:31). The specific form of interest referred to by Bourdieu is the establishment of scientific authority. What Bourdieu means by the statement that science produces and presupposes scientific authority is that recognition of such authority is dependent upon the interests of other people in the scientific community (in other words, other scientists confirm scientific authority).
- “Scientific authority is thus a particular kind of capital, which can be accumulated, transmitted, and even reconverted into other kinds of capital under certain conditions” (Bourdieu 1999:34). Think of the career path of a scientist, from school as a youth, undergraduate education, and graduate school; each step is an accumulation of a degree, which is a symbolic representation of cultural capital. But the scientific community is not really a level playing field; some scientific institutions are recognized as carrying more cultural capital than others. Bourdieu addressed how this works through his models of social stratification (Distinction) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinction_(book) ] , and this is essentially an application of his model of social stratification for science and technology. Moreover, the scientific community determines the parameters by which scientists are judged – this is why scientific authority is a particular kind of capital, a little different than other sectors of society. The self-enforced power of the scientific community as described by Bourdieu parallels the aforementioned Thomas Kuhn’s description of the power of paradigms and normal science. For those whose thinking is outside the box, like Albert Einstein, it is sometimes difficult to gain scientific authority when the community of scientists don’t recognize your accomplishments.
- The structure of science (and how scientific knowledge is recognized as valid) is determined by the different status or reputations of institutions, grants, rank, publications, and all the other things that scientists do. It isn’t just people who are involved in this recognition of scientific authority – scientific bureaucracies (e.g., the National Science Foundation, the aforementioned National Academy of Sciences), universities, foundations, corporations, and other institutions also serve to adjudicate and legitimize this competition between scientists. Doing science isn’t free – scientists need time and access to resources that are provided by scientific organizations, but you need some level of scientific authority to get into the game of science. There are specific strategies for advancement (the accumulation of cultural capital) that are the great concerns for both individual scientists and the scientific community. Think of the earlier example of Traweek’s Japanese and American physicists search for beamtimes.
- The scientific community is not a level playing field. Bourdieu writes: “The scientific field is always the locus of a more or less unequal struggle between agents unequally endowed with the specific capital, hence unequally equipped to appropriate the product of scientific labor accumulated by previous generations, and the specific profits (and also, in some cases, the external profits such as economic or strictly political benefits) which the aggregate of the competitors produce through their objective collaboration by putting to use the aggregate of the available means of scientific production” (Bourdieu 1999:37). This should sound familiar to you, having made it to college. Not all high schools are the same, and not all colleges are the same; but the end result after four years (hopefully!) of higher education is the same – either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science when you are done. But there must be a reason why you chose to come to this college; somewhere along the line, you (and your parents, society, etc.) recognized that this institution of higher education would open more doors than other colleges or universities. Next, think of the role that alumni play in maintaining the prestige and well-being of the college, as well as the social network that recent graduates can tap into for various opportunities. Then finally, think of the socialization that takes place over the four years of college – there is a certain set of cultural values and repertoire that are specific to every institution of higher education, reinforcing particular ways of thinking.
- But the science is also not a static community. In Bourdieu’s earlier points, science would seem to be resistant to change because of the structures of the scientific community. However, because the accumulation of social capital takes place through competition between scientists, science can also be the root of paradigmatic change (scientific revolution). Science is the source of change because of the tensions, contradictions, and instability that comes about through individual (and organizations) competition in science. Changes in the social and political context also add to the instability in science.
- Pure scientific objectivity is impossible. Objectivity, in terms of impartiality, openness to other ideas and approaches, etc., cannot really be possible in science because of the aforementioned competition for jobs, grants, publications, and all the other limited opportunities for career enhancement. Legitimation is gained through recognition by other scientists through the use of recognizable language, questions, and methodologies of the “field.” This defines something that Bourdieu calls doxa (the “knowable”), that both orthodox and heterodox perspectives confine their struggle.
Overall, the key to understanding science for Bourdieu is the recognition that that science as a body of knowledge and scientists as people (both the system and the people) represent themselves in certain ways that are both ideological strategies and epistemological positions that justify their own position.