Originally posted: Thu, 26 Jun 2003 21:06:53
Ecologies of Knowledge: Work and Politics in Science and Technology
by Susan Leigh Star (Editor)
Well, what a difference being well read makes. It turns out that two of the better essays in this collection -- by Latour and by Callon & Law -- are versions of essays in the Bijker and Law collection reviewed below. Nevertheless, this collection had some nice stimulative work in it. Susan Leigh Star's introduction, for instance, does some nice work on explaining the ecological metaphor as opposed to the network metaphor, although the explanation is unconvincing to me. (She sees the network metaphor as lacking because it implies that empty or blank spaces exist -- which is what I thought was the whole point of that metaphor.) Star also links ANT with pragmatism, discusses activity theory within this framework, deals with the question of how to interpret the notion of symmetry (i.e., it's not pantheism), and does quite a bit more. A great essay until the end, where she treats us to some of her own poetry. Brr.
Star also has a second essay on the politics of formal representations. I drew on this essay and Star's similar work when writing my book, so I'm already a big fan. Interestingly, I didn't get nearly as much out of it this time around. Perhaps that's because I know the territory so well now. Still, a strong essay.
Steve Woolgar's essay on integrating psychology and sociology is similarly interesting. I realized recently that psychology, sociology, and many of the other humanistic disciplines have taken up pieces of the programme originally taken up by rhetoric, so I feel less guilty about spending so much time reading their texts. Inevitably, these pieces of the programme have drifted away from each other, and Woolgar asks if they can be put back together again. He's pessimistic. I'm more optimistic; I suppose that's because activity theory is attempting to do exactly that. My favorite quote: "We need to recognize, instead, that 'cognitive' is an essentially odd notion" (p.174). Explanations of human activity in terms of cognition are, Woolgar maintains, premature at best.
Finally, Joan Fujimura's essay on cancer and biology was interesting in that she attempts an ANT-type analysis but attempts to replace the typically aggressive, warlike, competitive vocabulary with a more cooperative one, a vocabulary that she maintains does a better job of exploring distributed centers of authority. A worthwhile aim, although I found myself skimming the essay itself.
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