Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Reading:: Chasing Technoscience

Originally posted: Wed, 02 Jun 2004 17:57:16

Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality

by Evan Selinger (Editor), Donna Haraway, Don Ihde, Bruno Latour, Andrew Pickering

A while back, I noticed that kept recommending this book to me. Then a good friend asked me if I had read the interview with Latour that appears in it. Later, someone at UT's School of Information asked whether I had read the work of Andrew Pickering, who figures prominently in this book. So when I came across this book in the library while searching for an entirely different book, I had to pick it up.

I'm glad I did, although it's not going to change my life. Chasing Technoscience grew out of a technoscience research seminar at Stony Brook University, Don Ihde's home university, and about half of the chapters appear to be written by Ihde's graduate students in philosophy. The other half, of course, are Ihde, Haraway, Latour, and Pickering, all of whom are well known in technoscience studies. Here, they all publish original essays on their own work next to interviews with them conducted mostly by the seminar's participants.

(I should add "apparently" to that last sentence. This is the first I've heard of Don Ihde.)

Of the 14 chapters, the ones that interested me the most were the four interviews. They gave some interesting insights, and the interviewers didn't pull any punches. Since three of the interviewees are not trained philosophers and most of the interviewers are, we get an interesting interdisciplinary dialogue in which these famous technoscience theorists are held to philosophical standards with which they are not always familiar. That's not entirely fair, but it is fascinating. Pickering fares the worst in these terms, I think, but all acquit themselves fairly well.

We also get gems like this one. Latour is asked about Clifford Geertz's opposition to the critical studies mode of fieldwork and advocacy of a more hermeneutically sensitive mode. The interviewer describes the latter to Latour.

BL: Yes, that is a minimum definition of fieldwork! Does he mean that cultural studies people don't do that?

RC: Yes, that's what he says.

BL. This is very mean. (p.21)

Mean indeed. A lot of criticism leveled against the four principals is revealed in the interviews to be based on disciplinary differences and differences in programs. That is, Latour, Haraway, Ihde, and Pickering have managed to spread so widely and influence so many people outside their home disciplines that they are now having to keep their work coherent by shoring up their programs across disciplinary and national boundaries, making their warrants explicit, surfacing their assumptions, and rearticulating the principles of their frameworks within the different disciplines. It's the sort of problem most ambitious scholars would love to have. And in the end, I think that's the most interesting aspect of the book: it allows us to reflect on the practical consequences of interdisciplinarity in technoscience studies, and it thus allows us to reap lessons for similar interdisciplinary fields such as technical communication, computers & writing, and computer-supported cooperative work.

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