Random notes

This is some of my personal random notes written created while writing a paper for the INF5010 subject at the University of Oslo - Department of Informatics. Originally an internal wiki-page, but published after the course was over, just in case somebody else might find it interesting.

Remember to check out these links:

  • Science_and_technology_studies
  • Actor-network_theory
  • Knowledge
  • Epistomology
  • STSwiki
  • Good passages bad passages - idea:

  • If we look at passages, are passages of any value without them being experienced? Even bad passages have value?
  • To modernize or to echologize: ref TU conflict economists vs. engineers And exphil (law?) - I don’t much like Latour here
  • As a utilitarian I see similarities between ANT and UT. The always increasing waves
  • The age old question: Is there a universal moral? A view from somewhere seems to indicate that there isn’t. For some this might seem catastrophic. I, however, find it liberating. A universal moral seems to be telling me that what I might think really doesn’t matter.
  • This might now seem to be just a collection of random musings. I would like to claim that it’s not. This should be seen as a demonstration of how all things are connected and entangle, and that the journey itself actually has value.
  • Reverse engineering might be interesting to mention. Compare it to the constructors of old.
  • Relationships between “chaos” and “structure”
  • Human/Non-human not given
    • Use my alien example in ex phil paper (and cite it)
    • Cite turnbull page 213
    • Cite Callon (see lecture 27/4)
  • Doping in sports. Naive to believe that cheating isn’t happening without our knowledge in science? (see also p 170 turnbull)
  • As long as the “input parameters” are infinite, how can solutions be finite?
    • If not for ex. phil. I would not be a utilitarian
  • Compare to raise conditions in computer science. Blaming them on cosmic rays is not a good solution. Even though such problems boil down to pure logic, we seldom use logic to solve them. Instead one needs a bit of creativity and imagination.
  • Anyone who has done any kind of health work or worked with children should be able to conclude that universal solutions don’t exist.
  • Can an item exist all on its own? But can an item have ethics? Here we in some way collide because both of the arguments sort of exists, but at the same time are intermingled, but have to exist on their own to be valid.

Midterm paper

About non-human actors and such

What is knowledge? There are at least two definitions: involving the “facts” themselves and actively using the “facts”. [cite?] In Norwegian we even have two different words: “Kunnskap” and “Viten”.

When one has determined what knowledge is, one might ask oneself if knowledge can exists if no humans use it, and further if knowledge can exists independently from “the missing mass”? [cite?] Is our knowledge anything if we remove the material? Does knowledge have any inherent value when it exists “in limbo”?

I’m at the moment sitting on a bus writing this text in a good book using a good pen. Would I be writing the same text if I was writing on a fancy laptop in a fancy cafe? And if so, would I formulate myself (collect my knowledge) in the same way? How much of our work is dictated by the tools we work with? Do we formulate ourselves the same writing on a cell phone and in a book? Does our knowledge depend upon how, when, and not least why we apply it?

We all know Schrödingers famous “cat in a box”. So lets do a thought experiment with Schrödinger. Perhaps Schrödinger had a cat he was very fond of, or even more likely, perhaps his neighbor had an irritating cat he spent all day dreaming about putting in a box. The point here isn’t to prove that Schrödinger had relations with some cat. If he did, or didn’t isn’t important. The point is, that he might have been significantly influenced by a cat when doing his research. If so, this cat, would have been an important actor in the life of anybody learning physics.

Without the cat, maybe Schrödinger would have had us imagining putting puppies in boxes with cyanide, and would have been ignored as an evil puppy murderer. Or maybe it would have been an elephant in the box, and we would all have believed him to be an even bigger cook than he was, and wondered if he had spent too much time hanging around the chemistry lab.

Why Schrödinger? What does Schrödinger have to do with this image, you might ask. The answer is: nothing. I happened to see a random cat, out the window of the bus. So some random cat, happened by chance to become a very important actor. Had this cat not come along and influenced my thoughts this text would have been about something completely different, perhaps about how the bus is playing an active role in making by writing completely illegible.

Without the cat, the bus, the book and the pen none of this text, except for perhaps the first paragraph would ever have existed.

Let’s take a quick look at what I did here. First of all i tried to use humor, something that seldom plays a part in science, as a tool. But more importantly I didn’t define the big Question. By starting with just an image, I didn’t limit my network, letting other non-expected actors in, resulting in my text going somewhere completely unexpected.

Are the bus and the cat actors? Would my knowledge even have existed without them?

Article notes

Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers (book) - David Turnbull


[…] we are constituted as knowng (sic) subjects through the very processes of knowing that we construct


What compounds this even further is that we know little about the nature of inquiry; we hardly know what science and technology are, let alone what makes them tick or how to control them.


It must be grounded in the sense of ourselves as governing point. The controlling factor in the design problem is what we take the human condition to be. 1)


[…] ‘decentering’–recognising that there are other ways of knowing the world in addition to the Eurocentric and egocentric as exemplified in the term ‘Western science’ 2)


Science, in the general sense of systematic knowledge, was never uniquely Western, having exemplifications in a wide variety of cultures both ancient and modern, including Islam, India and china, the Americas, Africa and the Pacific. However, there is a great diversity of knowledge traditions around the world and despite the decentering in the more historically informed disciplines, the epistemological and political stakes are still very high in the struggle over what counts as knowledge, and whether modern science should be seen as setting the epistemological standard.


Firstly, that there is one uniquely correct ordering of the natural phenomena of the world and secondly, that there is a set of procedures sufficiently powerful to determine what that ordering is.


‘learned by doing science rather than by acquiring rules for doing it.’ 3)


it constitutes part of the ideological justification of scientific objectivity, the ‘god-trick’ as Haraway calls it: the illusion that there can be a pointless vision of everything. 4) Theories then have the characteristics of what Star calls ‘boundary objects’, that is, they are ‘objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites.’ 5)


One of the greatest divides is that between Western and so-called primitive knowledge systems, which has turned crucially on the question of the rationality of science. […] How is it, that the peoples of the world are sufficiently alike to have universally developed complex languages, and yet those languages and their accompanying knowledge systems have produced profoundly different cultures? And how are we to ensure communication between them whilst simultaneously preserving cultural diversity?


However, knowledge is not simply local, it is located. It is both situated and situating. It has place and creates a space.


I suggest that it is having the capacity for movement that enables local knowledge to constitute part of a knowledge system. This mobility requires devices and strategies that enable connectivity and equivalence, that is the linking of disparate or new knowledge and the rendering of knowledge and context sufficiently similar as to make the knowledge applicable.


There has been much debate about whether Pueblo astronomy is a science and whether it was sufficiently sophisticated to enable the prediction not just of the solar cycle but of the lunar cycle as well. The debate parallels that around Stonehenge and depends on the interpretation of very similar and problematic evidence.


However, an essential element was the way in which local knowledge was moved. The Inca developed a range of technical devices and social strategies that enabled all the elements of society to be assigned a spatio-temporal location, to be inscribed, accumulated and transmitted.


The native Andeans dug irrigation canals, built bridges, and constructed community store houses. Clearly technical knowledge was needed to do these things, but knowing how to organise and direct large groups of people to do the work and keep the system going must also be postulated. 6)


The Incan example serves to illustrates (sic) the inadequacy of Jack Goody’s dichotomy between oral and literate societies. Here we have a society which manifested an interest in abstract critical though, empirical verification, lists and tables, but without writing.

However, it is van der Ploege’s account of local knowledge or art de localité which is of central importance. Local knowledge is not systematic in the nomological or law-like fashion of science, it doe3s not lend itself to standardisation and exact planning, but neither is it atheortical of unsystematic. Being grounded in the specificities of local conditions and practice, it is the combination of diversity, complexity, vagueness and imprecision which gives it its essentially flexible, dynamic and strategic character.


Aboriginal culture is spatialised linguistically, socially, religiously, artistically, and epistemologically. Aboriginal ontology is one of spatialised activities, of events and processes, of people and places. To talk of things is to speak of the relationships of processes at named sites.


While the land may have boundaries which can be known with precision, it is not good custom to display them, because they are permeable rather than fixed entities with rites of access being required and most frequently granted. Areas can be owned by more than one group and routes can be common property. Boundaries are more properly the subject of negotiation and exchange is ceremony and ritual.


The major differences between Western science and other knowledge systems lie in the question of power. Western science has succeeded in transforming the world an our lives in ways that no other system has. The source of the power of science on this account lies not in the nature of scientific knowledge but in its greater ability to move and apply the knowledge it produces beyond the site of its production.


Technoscience could, for example, be seen as a history of visualisation or as a history of measurement and rational calculation. But a particularly perspicuous perspective on the cross-cultural history of knowledge production is provided by a social history of space, that is, a history of the contingent process of making assemblages and linkages, of creating spaces in which knowledge is possible. 7)


Perhaps the most important consequence of the recognition of the localness of scientific knowledge is that it permits a parity in the comparison of the production of contemporary technoscientific knowledges with knowledge production in other cultures. Previously the possibility of a truly equitable comparison was negated by the assumption that indigenous knowledges were merely local and were to be evaluated for the extent to which they had scientific characteristics.

Treating science as local simultaneously puts all knowledge systems on a par and renders vacuous any discussion of their degree of fit with transcendental criteria of scientificity, rationality, and logicality.


Considerable advances in understanding the movement of local knowledge have been made possible through Bruno Latour’s insightful analyses.


Boyle recognised the cogency of these arguments and set out to create the forms of life within which the knowledge created at one site could be relayed to and replicated at other sites. In order for an empirical fact to be accepted as such it had to be witnessable by all, but the very nature of an experimental laboratory restricted the audience of witnesses. To enable knowledge to move out of the bounded private space of the laboratory into a wider public space, Boyle sought to create what Shapin calls ‘virtual witnessing’ 8) But the most important consequence was the creation of an entirely new space within which such empirical knowledge became credible and authoritative.


The way a scientist learns to solve problems is not by applying theory deductively but, in Kuhanian fashion, by learning to apply theory through recognising situations as similar. Hence theories are models or tools whose application results from situations being conceived as, or actually being made, equivalent. This point is implicit in the recognition that knowledge produced in a laboratory does not simply reflect nature because nature as such is seldom available in a form that can be considered directly in the lab. Specially simplified and purified artefacts are the result of such an artificial process to have any efficacy in the world beyond the lab, the world itself has to be moved to conform with the rigours of science.

The largest and most expensive example in the US is the Bureau of Standards, a massive bureaucracy costing six times the national R&D budget. 9)


However, we should not be too easily seduced by the apparently liberatory effects of celebrating the local, since it is all to easy to allow the local to become a ‘new kind of globalising imperative’. 10) In order for all knowledge systems to have a voice and to allow for the possibility of inter-cultural comparison and critique, both of which are in my view essential, we have to maintain the local and the global in dialectical opposition to one another. 11)


Recognising that all knowledge systems create their own space in which knowledge, trust and place are made, allows for just such an interrogation and working together by making visible the spatial and moral components of knowledge production.


As a consequence of their presuppositions about the nature of the design process and about the nature of scientific and technical knowledge, many authors answer these questions in a way that on the one hand makes the construction process seem mysterious and radically different form ‘moder’ construction and design, and on the other obscures the historical emergence of such technical devices as plans.


They portray science as an abstract and entirely modern phenomenon and cathedral building as mere technical craft unguided by theoretical or scientific understanding. Hence they are drawn to make an inexplicable mystery out of the Gothic cathedrals.

In creating these dichotomies between technology and science, between the medieval and the modern, between the ad hoc and the theoretical, such analysts are perpetuating what are now taken as self-evident distinctions, but it forces them into making the construction of the cathedrals a mystery requiring the invocation of such imponderables an ‘insuperable barrier’ or ‘genius’ or a long-forgotten secret building technique.


A template is a pattern or mold, usually outlined on a thin piece of wood, that a stone mason uses to cut a stone to a particular shape. This small item of representation technology has much of the power of a scientific theory: it manifests the integration of science/technology and theory/practice, and it is a solution of the central problem of knowledge transmission.

This distinction and over-emphasis characterizing the traditional view of scientific knowledge derive from epistemological presuppositions that conceal the local and messy practices that are typical of the production of technoscientific knowledge in all eras.


The difference between them lie in the social and technical means by which local and messy knowledge/practices, are made robust, coherent and mobile, that is, in the ways in which the site-specific or even problem-specific products are added to the work of previous individuals or groups of workers, or are transmitted to another site.


It was not until the use of iron framing in the nineteenth century that they could be emulated and surpassed. 12)


To the modern mind the design argument in architecture seems self-evident just as an analogous argument in biology used to seem self-evident until its displacement by evolutionary theory. The world is a very complex place full of intricate mechanisms like the eye, therefore they had to have a designer.


Obviously absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Indeed there are good reasons not to expect site drawings to survive. They would, in all likelihood, have been drawn by the master mason on scraps of wood and paper as detailed explanations of particular structural problems, just as they are on building sites today.


I want to argue that a plan or design is too strong a requirement; a minimum requirement is some means of transporting knowledge within the structual site, or between different sites.

The architectural historian Lon Shelby posed the question of who designed the cathedrals in just these terms: knowledge transmission and assemblage. In the absence of plans who did the scholastic and the craft traditions work together? The patron scholar couldn’t build and the master mason couldn’t read so how did the spiritual and intellectual values of the day become integrated in the building?


Shelby’s deceptively simple but profoundly important answer is — talk.

Firstly, they seldom practised their profession in one place; the job did not come to them, the went to the job. 13) This exposure to new sites and the work of others was a constant spur to innovation. Secondly, the construction site was essentially an experimental laboratory in which the masons were able to see whether an innovation was successful. Talk, tradition, and templates provided for a distributed, heterogeneous, design process strongly analogous to the scientific theory building described earlier by Star: … different viewpoints are constantly being adduced and reconciled … Each actor, site, or node of a scientific community has a viewpoint, a partial truth consisting of local beliefs, local practices, local constants, and resources, none of which are fully verifiable across all sites. The aggregation of all viewpoints is the source of the robustness of science. 14)


How the cathedrals were built becomes clear if we take Wilson’s metaphor seriously and recognise that the cathedrals were comparable to modern laboratories in three important ways. Firstly their very construction constituted a series of full-scale experiments.

Secondly, laboratories are the spaces in which the local, tacit and messy knowledge/practices of groups of practitioners are transformed through collective work into a coherent tradition. Thirdly, cathedrals just like twentieth-century laboratories are powerful loci of social transformation, absorbing large amounts of capital and concentrating resources, skills and labour. 15)

Answering the question ‘how were the cathedrals build?’ involves seeing them as knowledge spaces analogous to experimental laboratories in which the key elements were templates, talk, and tradition.


Thus another essential ingredient is geometry. In the absence of rules for construction derived from structural laws problems could be resolved by practical geometry, using compasses, a straigth-edge, ruler, and string.


’In an age when no other reproduction methods were known it was the drawing book which transmitted iconographic and formal elements from place to place, from atelier to atelier, from generation to generation. 16)

The point of this examination of the role of plans, geometry, and templates is two-fold. It shows that the building of the cathedrals is neither mysterious nor a merely practical matter. What it takes is the establishment of a laboratory, and the joint deployment within it of both a mode of proportional analysis and a small innovation in the technology of representation, the template. By analogy, modern technoscience, which is a large complex structure requiring the integration of the local knowledge and skills of a wide range of people, may also succeed in constructing a unified edifice without the benefit of anything so intangible as the scientific method or fully articulated theory.


The representationalist conception of science has led to an emphasis on theory, written law-like knowledge and its transmission through texts. However, the issue at stake is not one of understanding the development of general theory, but rather of how knowledge created in one circumstance is made to work in another. In other words the problem, in both science and technology, is not one of putting theory into practice but of the transmission of practices.

… who developed in 1923 a limited theory for one of his arched bridge types that violated in principle the general mathematical theory of structures and thereby infuriated many Swiss academics between the wars. But Maillart’s limited theory worked well for that special type of form. Within that category type Maillart’s theory was useful and had the virtue of great simplicity; he developed the theory to suit the form, not the form to suit the theory. 17)


By the sixteenth century a fundamental shift had occurred in the role of the mason. As the social and professional status of the architect rose, the mason dropped gradually into serving merely as builder for the architect. As execution and design became separate, the education style and training of the mason and the architect became distinct. A new style of gentleman architect emerged who did not serve an apprenticeship but learnt from books, thereby avoiding the taint of being, or associating with, craftsmen. 18)


The Gothic cathedrals constitute a potent an illuminating example of the ways in which technoscientific knowledge was produced in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They were in effect large-scale laboratories where knowledge spaces were coproduced through a process of contingent assemblage.

The example of the Gothic cathedrals undermines some of the great myths about science and technology. There is no great divide between the past and the present of between science and technology. Technoscience then and now results from site-specific, contingent and messy practices. 19)

Technoscience, like the cathedrals, is the product of collective practices based on the earlier work of others.


From the malariological perspective, malaria is better understood not as a uniquely specifiable phenomenon, but as an interaction between three factors: the human host, the mosquito vector and the malaria parasite manifested in a particular locale and time. 20)


The range of possible definitions is extremely broad. At one end of the spectrum, there have been those for whom malaria is not really a disease at all. In PNG, for example, some of the coastal people in New Guinea describe it as ‘samting nating’ (something nothing). There have even been some who have seen it as a saviour. ‘Let us give thanks therefore to that little insect, the mosquito, which has saved the land of our fathers for us.’ 21) ) Some critics have defined it as a ‘political disease’ resulting from the dominance of Third World by the colonial and mercantile interests of the West. 22) Others have defined it as ‘a social problem’, 23) an ‘administrative problem’, 24) a ‘military problem’, 25) an ‘economical problem’, 26) an ‘ecological problem’, 27) or even an ’engineering problem’28).

Garrett following Campbell argues that malaria is ‘a disease whose existence was proven by reversing it with drug treatments’. She goes on to claim that, ‘At least in the African context when the disease no longer respionded to chloroquine treatment because of resistance, it was transformed into a different syndrome.’ The Campbell/Garrett position makes malaria a function of the treatment we currently have for it — the ultimate constructivist position.


These processes intersect with transitions in science itself. Science is becoming bigger and more capital intensive , more commercialised and more directly connected to private capital. 29)

A Melbourne botanist, Geoff McFadden has recently shown that malaria parasites may carry a ‘residual plastid’. 30) In lay terms this suggests that genetic engineers have been wrong to assume the parasite is an animal; it may also be a plant, or at least was once a plant in the distant past.


All vaccines are dependent on the addition of an adjuvant. Adjuvants are immunology’s ‘dirty little secret’, according to Charlie Janeway at Yale University. 31) No one is quite sure how they work, but they contain a complex range of ingredients like ‘detergent, oil and water, aluminium hydroxide and dead bacteria that have nothing to do with the disease the vaccine protects against.’ 32)

A curious fact about malaria vaccine research is that none of the participants in the story have an unreservedly sanguine view of its likely outcome. Indeed if you add all their reservations together, the chances of a successful vaccine look rather thin. Despite the huge amount of money put into malaria vaccines and the constant hope that a breakthrough is just around the corner, no vaccine has yet proved successful.


Amongst the immune population a vaccine may even have a negative effect. Inhabitants of areas where malaria is endemic tend to have a high degree of immunity acquired as the result of a lifetime’s exposure. Curing these people of malaria will also render them non-immune, and hence highly vulnerable to a full-scale malaria attack once the vaccine wears off.

Varying considerably from region to region and over time, malaria has also been found to vary at the village level. 33)


For these three competing research groups winning the race for malaria vaccine was expected to bring prestige, especially the prestige of a Nobel Prize. So strongly did the participants equate getting the vaccine with getting the prize, that they frequently reflected on how seriously their competition interfered with their research, and wondered wistfully whether there were not some way to abolish the prize.


Of contemporary attempts to control malaria in PNG, the most common method is chemotherapy. The earliest drug treatment for malaria in PNG was Quinine.


After quinine, DDT was thought to be the answer, and WHO started a world-wide program to eradicate malaria using DDT as an insecticide spray. In PNG, apart from a few limited areas in the Highlands and islands, DDT spraying was stopped after twenty years because it did not work. In fact, during the period of large-scale spraying, the incidence of malaria increased as migrant workers helped to spread it into non-endemic areas.

It also shows that malaria, like all diseases, is as much a social problem as a technical one. The villagers’ behaviour, and their perceptions and beliefs about the significance of malaria and the efficacy of its treatment, are all important.


DDT provides an important historical example of the devastating consequences of the way in which First World interests conduce to the introduction of a simple, universal, technological fix. A fix for which there was no absolute necessity, and which was know from the start to have serious resistance and toxicity problems. 34)


A more recent biological control is a bacillus (Bacillus thuringiensis) BT14.35) BT14 destroys the mosquito larvae that consume the bacillus after it has been spread on pools and lakes. It is completely non-toxic to all other life forms and is extremely effective. In Africa it has been supplied to villagers in a from that the villagers themselves can brew up and spread cheaply and easily on water in the area as it becomes necessary. This is an effective way of putting control at low cost, using low technology, into the hands of the locals, albeit control based on First World biomedical engineering.


Controlling malaria is a multi-faceted problem which requires the simultaneous treatment of a range of interacting elements, given the diversity and local specificity of the disease, host and vector.

It is possible that the alternative definitions of malaria may be kept open and that a vaccine may actually be of long-term benefit in the endemic regions. But unless the vaccine is integrated into the local health services and local practices, political and economic issues will override the medical and social ones; unless there is a dialectical interaction between the needs of the particular people in particular places and the technical requirements of vaccines, chemotherapy, or insecticides, the program will fail, as did the DDT program, because externally imposed discipline cannot be sustained in the long run. 36)

What the malaria case suggests is that the kind of epistemological, moral and ontological disciplining of people, practices and places that characterise the way in which the knowledge space of Western laboratory science is extended are inappropriate in the disordered, complex world of tropical disease.


Thirty years ago John Ziman made a modest proposal that went somewhat unremarked in the midst of the Kuhnian revolutionary uproar. 37) Science, he claimed, is basically social because it is as much driven by the need for consensus and convention as it is by logic and method. Science is first and foremost public knowledge.


The problems of universality and rationality are central to the real world political issues concerning the question of whose knowledge should be authoritative. They are also central to the more internal problems of the sociology of scientific knowledge.

The sociology of scientific knowledge is also awash in claims that it has reached maturity, has proven sterile, is an attack on civilistation as we know it, has been of no use in policy making or liberating the Third World, is obsessed with the social, has moved beyond the social, like all forms of constructivism and relativism is self-contradictory and therefore just more postmodern claptrap, is at heart the old orthodoxy and should be replace by cultural theory.


In this last chapter I want explore [sic] the reasons why this clash between the local and the universal is irresolvable unless we devise a strategy that will embrace the contradiction, celebrate the messiness, but also avoid the central weakness of postmodernism, which is that its critique of modernism and progress has led to the abandonment of the possibility of the improvement of the human condition.


But rationality is a deeply problematic concept. It is very profoundly embedded in the hidden assumptions of late twentieth-century occidentalism about what it is to be a knowing, moral, sane individual. Indeed, so embedded is it that to be anything other than rational is to be ignorant, immoral, insane or the member of an undifferentiated herd. Hence rationality cannot be treated as simply an epistemological concept about the conditions under which one can now something, it also carries ideological overtones, privileging certain ways of knowing over others. Rationality is a constitutive element in the moral economy.


But from a constructivist’s historically contingent perspective there are no universal criteria of rationality. What counts as rational has always been contested and cannot be the outcome of locally negotiated criteria in particular contexts of struggle.

Whether true knowledge was to be derived deductively from self-evident first principles or by observation and experiment, it had already been accepted that the acquisition of such knowledge was within the capacity of human individuals.


Alder concludes that precision, uniformity, control and efficiency are not the innate commitments; it is a set of social practices which have emerged historically. 38)


Nor are we quite the rational agents basing our knowledge simply on direct experience that some legal and philosophical theorists claim. A considerable proportion of our knowledge derives from books, television, newspapers, journals, teachers, experts and our community traditions. In other words our knowledge is a blend of the testimony of others, and our own experience of public and local knowledge. Thus our individual lived rationality is based in a range of social practices, traditions and moralities, that are suppressed and conceal in the portrayal of rationality as an ahistorical universalistic form of reasoning exemplefied by science. Much the same can be said of objectivity. Objective knowledge is held to be the product of science that has established methods to ensure individual, institutional and cultural biases are eliminated. On closer examination objectivity is not a special characteristic of one kind of knowledge-science, rather it is the result of whatever institutionalised practices serve in a particular culture to create self-evident validity.

This characterisation of objectivity as the ‘view from nowhere’ represents one of the essential contradictions of scientific knowledge production. 39) Knowledge is necessarily a social product; it is messy, contingent, and situated outcome of group activity. Yet in order to achieve credibility and authority in a culture that prefers the abstract over the concrete and separates facts from values, knowledge has to be presented as unbiased and undistorted, without a place of a knower. Objectivity, like rationality and democracy, is at best a worthy goal but one that is never capable of achievement. Since knowledge is the product of social processes it can never completely transcend the social.


Critique is therefore crucially dependent on the possibility of change, on technoscience not being autonomous or above the constellation of social, economic, political and cultural processes that somehow bring about our sociocultural world. Critics of the sociology of scientific knowledge are often confused on this essential issue. They take anything that does not preserve the autonomy of science as bing anti-science.


The essence of the argument is that ‘knowledge’ or ‘truth’ will emerge in the long run, because any social contaminants or determinants will be eradicated by the demands of common sense practice, fit with the evidence, consistency with other theories and so on.


To deny that there are any fixed or universal criteria of truth or rationality does not necessitate the abandonment of any criteria at all. On the contrary, the relativist can and does make choices, judgements and assessments about what to do and what to believe, but on the basis of criteria that are flexible and negotiable. Instead of accepting that there are self-evident or necessary criteria for rationality, or that science itself should be taken as the exemplar of rationality, the sociology of knowledge must take as a question of research the ways in which particular criteria are articulated in particular circumstances.


If we accept that all knowledge claims or beliefs are value-laden, then the sociology of knowledge itself is an inherently value-laden and consequently an evaluative program. At the same time it must embrace the full consequences of relativism and recognise the necessity of reflexivity, of providing explanations and evaluations of itself. Thus the very grounds for adopting relativism and the sociology of knowledge must also be permeated with values, and hence the reasons for rejecting or accepting relativism are at least partly moral and political in character.

A major focus of concern must therefore be: what desirable or good, rather than simply ‘true’ or ‘probable’? Of course there are no fixed and universal criteria for moral and political judgements, but the grounds for adopting relativism are that human purposes and values should be considered explicitly instead of being transformed and absorbed into relations between objects.


These strategic remarks appear to vitiate their authors’ position by seeking to legitimate their own disciplinary practice in terms of the criteria of the disciplines they set out to criticise. This of course reflects the central problem for all endeavors to criticise or understand human understanding. How do you rebuild the raft while at sea? How do you achieve a standpoint, which itself is uncriticisable, from which to criticise?

The temptation to resolve the self-referential paradox involved in thinking about thinking, by opting for one privileged standpoint, must be resisted. 40) As we shall see, if this temptation is not resisted, several dire consequences would seem to follow: the analysis which has led to a denial of the great divide and the fact/value, knowledge/power, science/ideology distinctions will ultimately be rendered ineffective; science or some other knowledge tradition will (again) become autonomous and the sole source of authority.


Logical laws and rational criteria are not by themselves sufficient, for the reasons I have already mentioned. They can tell us nothing about the content of our ideas or about why we have organised and classified the natural world in the way that we have. They leave unanswered questions about meaning, significance, purpose or value.

Thus it would seem that there is only one solution to the dilemma: to embrace it, to acknowledge that all knowledge claims, including this one, are active constructions and that in criticising them there is no possibility of stepping aside from the process of the continuous interaction of our ideas and the world. There remains however, the ‘long-run’ argument. The ‘long run’ argument gains its strength by allowing the possibility that all is indeed process and action, and that all the claims I have made about the social construction of knowledge are true, but holds that they are nonetheless trivial because in the long run the social circumstances and contaminants of knowledge production will be winnowed away. In the end, despite the vested interests, cultural background, or political ideology of a particular scientist or group of scientists, what comes to be accepted as knowledge will be that which has the greatest predictive success, fit with the data, conformity with other theories and so on.


There are two counter arguments to this: firstly, that although we may accumulate a host of such claims, we never know that they are true. Either, as has been argued, there is no Archimedean point from which to assess such claims, or if there is, we can have no knowledge of it. Secondly, the argument from the instrumentally progressive character of science does not on the one hand demonstrate that there is any theoretical or ontological progress, or that there is a way we can show that we have greater knowledge of ‘the hidden workings of reality’.

My answer to that question is, no—if, that is, we merely attempt to understand the world.

What I have tried to show in this book is that all knowledge traditions, in assembling the heterogeneous components of people, practices and places, create knowledge spaces. All such knowledge spaces have transparent elements, concerning ontological assumptions about whom to trust, what counts as evidence and so on.

If we do not actively celebrate the messiness of all our knowledge making we will in the long run condemn ourselves to an inevitable death brought on by the inflexibility and sterility of a monoculture. In the long run, social and cultural complexity cannot be winnowed away; it’s all there is.
First and foremost it is extremely difficult to move outside your own knowledge space in the same way that it is extremely difficult to become as fluent in another language as a native speaker.

1) E. E. Morison, From Know-How to Nowhere: The development of American technology, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974), pp. 1-16, p. 4.

2) Andrew Cunnigham and Perry Williams, ‘De-centringthe “Big Picture”: The Origins of Modern Science and the Modern Origins of Science’, British Journal for the History of Science (BJHS), Vol. 26, 4, (1993), pp. 407-432, p. 429

3) T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 191.

4) Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, (London: Free Association Books, 1991), p. 189.

5) Ibid.

6) M. Ascher, Ethnomathematics: A Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas, (Pacific Grove: Brooks Cole, 1991); Maria Ascher and Robert Ascher, Code of the Quipu: A Study in Media, Mathematics and Culture, (Ann Arbor: university of Michigan Press, 1981).

7) Andrew Barry, ‘The History of Measurement and the Engineers of Space’, BJHS, Vol. 26, (1993), pp. 459-68.

8) Ophir, Shapin 1991, ‘The Place of Knowledge’, p. 15.

9) P. Hunter, ‘The National System of Scientific Measurement’, Science, Vol. 210, (1980), pp. 869-74, discussed in Bruno Latour, Science In Action, (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1987). p. 251

10) Katherine Hayles, Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), pp. 213-4.

11) Edward Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).

12) Carl Condit, The Chicago School of Architecture: A History of Public Buildings in the Chicago Area 1875-1925, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), p. 79.

13) Lon R. Shelby, ‘The “Secret” of the Medieval Masons’, in B. Hall and D. West, eds., On Pre-Modern Technology and Science, (Malibu: Undena Publications, 1976), pp. 201-222.

14) Susan Leigh Star, ‘The Structure of Ill-Structured Solutions: Boundary Objects and Heterogeneous Distributed Problem Solving’, in L. Gasser and N. Huhns, eds., Distributed Artificial Intelligence, (New York: Morgan Kauffman Publications, 1989), pp. 37-54, p.46.

15) A. Touraine, 1973, Production de la Societe, cited in Michel Callon, John Law, and Arie Rip, eds., Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology; Sociology of Science in the Real World, (London: MacMillan, 1986) p. 4.

16) Scheller, Survey of Medieval Model Books, p. 3

17) David Billington, The Tower and the Bridge: The New Art of Structural Engineering, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985) pp. 8-10

18) Lon R. Shelby, Gothic Design Techniques: The Fifteenth Century Design Booklets of Mathes Roriczer and Hans Schmuttermayer, (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1977). pp. 3ff.

19) Mikael Hård, ‘Technology as Practice: Local and Global Closure Processes in Diesel-Engine Design’, Social Studies of Science, Vol. 24, (1994), pp. 549-85.

20) J. D. Charlwood, ‘Which Way Now for Malaria Control?’, Papua New Guinea Medical Journal, Vol. 27, (1984), pp. 159-162.

21) S. D. Onabarimo, University Collegde, Ibadan, quoted in P. F. Russel, Man’s Mastery of Malaria, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 244

22) J. P. Kreier, ed., Malaria: Vol.1; Epidemiology, Chemotherapy, Morphology, and Metabolism, (New York: Anchor Press, 1966); Franco-Agudelo, ‘The Rockefeller Foundation’s Antimalarial Program in Latin America’, p. 18.

23) E. Gruenbaum, ‘Struggling with the Mosquito: Malaria Policy and Agricultural Development in Sudan’ Medical Anthropology, Vol. 7, (1983), pp. 51-61.

24) ‘The presence of urban malaria is an administrative crime’ Farid, ‘The Malaria Programme — From Euphoria to Anarchy’, p. 9.

25) ‘The Rockefeller Foudnation’s Antimalarial Program in Latin America’, p. 54.

26) Farid, ‘The Malaria Programme—From Euphoria to Anarchy’, p.12; G. Chapin and R. Wasserton, ‘Pesticides Use and Malaria Resurgence in Central America and India’, Social Sciences and Medicine, Vol. 17, (1983), pp. 273-90.

27) V. P. Sharma cited in Laurie Garrett, The coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance, (London: Virago Press, 1994), p. 454.

28) F. L. Hoffman, The Malaria Problem in Pease and War, (London: Prudential Press, 1918), p. 7.

29) David Dickson, The New Politics of Science, (Chicago: university of Chicago Press, 1984).

30) Geoffrey McFadden Michael Reith, et al., ‘Plastid in Human Parasites’, Natuer, Vol. 381, 6h June, (1996), p. 482.

31) Ibid, p. 26.

32) Ibid, p. 27.

33) J. Cattani, H. Vrbova, et al., ‘Inter-cluster Variation in Malariometric Rates in a Coastal Area of Paua New Guinea’.

34) T. F. West and G. A. Campbell, DDT: The Synthetic Insecticide, (London: Chapman and Hall, 1946), pp. 134 and 178.

35) Bruce-Chwatt, \Malaria: From Eradication To Control’, p. 19.

36) J. Cattani, ‘Malaria in the South-west Pacific; a Prototype Defined Population for Vaccine Trials’, unpublished paper given at the Asia-Pacific Conference on Malaria, (Honolulu: 1985).

37) John Ziman, Public Knowledge: The Social Dimension of Science, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968)

38) Ken Alder, Engineering the Revolution: Arms and the Enlightenment in France 1763-1815, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 130.

39) T. Nagel, The View From Nowhere, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

40) Sandra Harding, Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?: Thinking from Women’s Lives, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991)

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