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Stengers’shibbolet, Bruno Latour [.pdf]
"1997 (foreword) Isabelle Stengers, Power and Invention, University of Minnesota
Press, Minneapolis"

"-Would you say that Isabelle Stengers is the greatest French philosopher of science?

-Yes, except she is from Belgium a country that exists only in part and where, contrary to France, the link between science and the state is nil.

-Would you say that she is the philosophical right-hand of the Nobel Prize winner of chemistry Ilya Prigogine?

-Yes, since she wrote several books with him, and yet she has spent the rest of her life trying to escape from the mass of lunatics attracted to this “New Alliance” between science and culture they both wrote together.

-Is she an historian of science?

-Hard to say. Although she wrote extensively on Galileo, on XIXth century thermodynamics, on chemistry1, she remains a philosopher interested in what her physicists and chemists colleagues should understand of their science. Her main object of attention is modern science, and this is what historians and philosophers should study together, no?

-You are not going to say that she is an internalist philosopher of science, are you?

-Worse than that, Isabelle Stengers is an “hyperinternalist” forcing you always to go further towards a small number of theoretical decisions made by her scientific colleagues. In her eyes, most scientists are often not internalist enough.

-But at least don’t tell us that she is a whiggish historian of science looking, like Gaston Bachelard or Georges Canguilhem, for the ways by which hard science finally escapes from history?

-She is, I am afraid, much worse. She is “anti-anti-whiggish” trying to figure out why the anti-whiggish stance is not the good way to account for what it is to “win” in science, at least not if one aims at convincing the chemists and biologists and physicists she is working with.

-But she is a woman philosopher and at least she must develops some kind of feminist philosophy of science?

-There is hardly anyone more critical of the feminist literature although she uses it extensively and knows it quite well.

-Then, she must be one of these abstract minds trying to reconstruct rationally the foundations of science and being busy erasing all signs of her sex, gender, nationality and standpoint?

-Not at all, there is no one more externalist than her and reading more extensively in the litterature on the social history of science.

-What? Does she have any patience for those ridiculous attempts at connecting science and society?

-Worse than that, she is addicted to it and knows more “science studies” than anyone else in the field.

-Do you mean to say that she likes it because it flatters her radical leanings in politics?

-Worse, she wrote on drug legalization, she is a militant in a small left Belgium party and even went as far as working with charlatans practicing hypnosis and other kinds of unorthodox cures... I told you, Isabelle Stengers is always worse! She wrote as much on hypnosis as on physics and she happily compares chemistry laboratory and ethnopsychiatry, going so far as to rehabilitate the word “charlatan”2.

-Then she must be one of these ignorant radicals doing politics because they are unable to grasp the niceties of science?

-Not quite since she does radical politics through the careful definition of what Laplace, Lagrange, Carnot have done with their equations.

-I am thoroughly lost... Then she must be quite a woman?!

-Yes, and quite a mind!

-But, tell me, how come you have been asked to write a foreword for someone who seems obviously much better endowed in philosophical subtleties, political will and scientific knowledge than yourself?

-This is quite strange, I concur. I guess it is because of the tradition in science studies and in anthropology of the modern world to study “up” instead of “down”. Trying to swallow hard sciences had very good effect on the softer ones. I guess it is the same with Stengers. You grind your teeth on her argument, and you feel much better afterward!..."

[continues into the intro]

"One simple way to define this collection of articles presented in English, is to say that they have been written by a philosopher interested in the very classical question of distinguishing good science from bad. Her new solution to this old problem will be, however, difficult to grasp both for science studies and for philosophers and that requires some clarification. Isabelle Stengers does not share the anti-normative stance of most recent historians and sociologists of science and has no qualms in looking for a shibbolet that will help sort out science from non-science. In this sense, but in this sense only, her work is marginally more acceptable to Anglo-American epistemologists than those of “science studies” who shun away from any normative position. Philosophers will be able to recognize at least that here is someone who is not complacent vis-a-vis the production of bad science and who shares their will for a good cleansing job. The difference, because fortunately there is one, lies in the fact that her own touchstone means getting rid of most epistemologists and quite a lot of hard sciences! So the normative goal is similar but the principles of choice are radically different. "

"Stengers’ request to be cosmopolitically correct cut both ways, and cuts hard. In the obscure fights of the Science Wars, one can safely predicts, she will be seen as a traitor to all the camps, not because she is “in the middle” -no one is less of a middle-woman than her, no one is less an adept of the Golden Medium!- but because she imposes on all protagonists a criterion that they will do their utmost to escape. Although this book appears in a series called “Theories out of bound”, no theory is more binding than Stengers’ new demarcation criterion. Having often tried to escape its binding strength only to find myself forced to use it again, it is a great pleasure (and I say it with some glee) to imagine that English-speaking readers are now to be enmeshed into this most daring enterprise we, in the French-reading world, had to take into account for so long. It is my hope that they will learn more than I did (this is unlikely) in those twenty years when I tried to profit from her marvelous “habits of thoughts”, and also my hope that they will be forced even more than I was (this is more unlikely) to modify their definition of hard science and of radical politics by using Stengers’ shibboleth and pushing it everywhere -against herself if needs be!"
isabellestrengers  brunolatour  1997  whigpunk  whigishness  whigs  science  philosophy  philosophyofscience  history  culture  thirdculture  ilyaprigogine  physics  chemistry  feminism  socialhistory  politics  ethnopsychiatry  charlatans  radicalism 
march 2015 by robertogreco
The language of objects | Interactivate
"Objects may not be silent, but what difference does that make if you don’t speak their language?

I’ve been doing a bit more musing on some of the anecdotes Stephanie Weaver shared during her keynote at the recent Interpretation Australia conference (first instalment here). She mentioned the often-heard claim that objects “speak for themselves” (a view that appears especially prevalent in art circles), thus rendering interpretation irrelevant at best, interfering at worst. In response, one time she challenged some “speak for themselves-ists” with an image of a carburettor, similar to this one:


Did the object speak to them about what it was? Was it a particularly fine or noteworthy example? In the absence of any relevant mechanical or technical knowledge, Stephanie’s interlocutors were stumped. They accepted that this object was mute in the absence of interpretation (at least to them).

But Stephanie also told the story of the object that spoke to her immedately, profoundly, and so powerfully it moved her to tears – no interpretation required:


In this case, the painting was the trigger for an avalanche of meaning that lay within Stephanie’s own life experience. In was in the Musee d’Orsay, during a much-anticipated and long-awaited trip to Paris. The painting was beatifully presented in a gallery context. The content resonated with Stephanie’s childhood as a dance student. And of course there is an aesthetic appeal that needs no overt explanation*.

This made me think that the “objects are mute” vs “objects speak for themselves” debate may be missing an important nuance: perhaps objects do speak, at least some of the time, although we as visitors may not necessarily be conversant in the language any given object speaks. And if not, the object is as good as mute to us.

Some communication transcends language: in another conference session, Pamela Harmon-Price described how a Japanese tour guide used timing, gesture and body language to convey considerable meaning, despite Pamela not understanding a word of what was said. Drawing analogy to objects, there may be some aspects of an object: form, colour, positioning, and so on, that can speak to us on some level.

But then there is the Tower of Babel of other languages any given object may speak. And of course the same object may speak multiple languages (the languages of technology, or art, or social history). And that is where interpretation can step in – conveying that meaning to those who don’t know enough of the language enough to understand it.

On a radio interview held with Stephanie, Pamela and John Pastorelli during the conference, they reflected on the fact that people outside the cultural sector tend to assume “interpretation” has something to do with languages. Perhaps on some level they’re right: it’s just that it’s intepreting the languages of objects and places rather than other people.

So next time you see an object that you think “speaks for itself” – ask yourself: can you only hear it because you already know the language?

*At least to people enculturated into a Western perspective of aesthetics. Although there are some aspects of aesthetics that may be ‘hard wired’, so to speak, yet others will be a product of the culture we live in, and we deem those as “universal” at our peril!"
objects  communication  language  2014  gestures  bodylanguage  technology  art  socialhistory  interpretation  stephanieweaver  via:anne  pamelaharmon-price  form  color  positioning 
october 2014 by robertogreco
We Are Red76, Which is...
"Nomadic in nature, Red76's origins reside in Portland, Cascadia/Oregon wherein it was founded in the winter of 2000. The socio-historical landscape of the Cascadian region greatly informs the methodological underpinnings of their work. The group, often in flux and geographically dispersed, is the moniker for initiatives most often conceived by Sam Gould, and collaboratively realized with the assistance of Gabriel Mindel-Saloman, Zefrey Throwell, Dan S. Wang, Mike Wolf, Laura Baldwin, and many others.

Often situating itself in public space, or creating an atmosphere wherein the definition of space maybe have an opportunity to redefine itself, Red76 initiatives utilize overlooked histories and common shared occurrences as a means of creating a framework in which to construct their public inquiries. Social histories, collaborative research, parallel politics, free media, alternative educational constructs, gatherings, masking, and public dialogue play a continuing and vital role within the methodology and concepts of Red76's work.

Along with producing many independent initiatives, on street corners, in laundromats, bars, and kitchen tables, Gould and Red76 have engaged in projects commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, the Drawing Center, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Printed Matter, Creative Time, the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Gallery at Reed College, 01 San Jose, SF MoMA, Rhizome/New Museum, The Bureau for Open Culture, The Walker Arts Center, and many others."
cascadia  alternative  education  socialhistory  alternativeeducation  collaboration  gatherings  making  publicinquiry  gabrielmindel-aloman  laurabaldwin  mikewolf  danswang  zefreythrowell  samgould  red76  social  aesthetics  publicart  artists  art 
july 2012 by robertogreco
Know Your City: Portland's Social History App by dill pickle club — Kickstarter
"Know Your City will be a free phone app and Website providing a tour of downtown Portland's cultural heritage. The program utilizes mapping and smart phone technology to create greater awareness of Portland's history, culture and diversity through video, audio, photos and text. The project aims to provide a holistic view of how neighborhoods change over time to deepen our understanding of place."
portland  oregon  history  socialhistory  ios  applications  katebingamanburt  dillpickleclub  open  2011 
november 2011 by robertogreco

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