File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_1998/bourdieu.9804, message 16

Date: Mon, 6 Apr 1998 20:39:28 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Reductionism/anti-science [was: Re: Aesthetic Labour]

On Thu, 2 Apr 1998, Jay Lemke wrote:

> George Free's remark, "All history of science is Whiggish in a
> sense," is quite wonderful, but seemingly more true of the perspective of
> science toward itself than of that of modern historians or the social
> studies of science movement (itself often anathema to science's true
> believers).
	One thing I wanted to suggest with my remarks is that the 
anti-Whiggish historians of science are equally caught up in advancing 
an image of science that serves their own interests, that is, the image 
of science that legitimizes their own scientific/scholarly productions.
	This is clear in the writings of the social studies of science
people who are as much engaged in attacking the sciences as they are in
writing histories about them. Their attacks, which are broadly
anti-science and irrationalist in their implications, implicitly invoke an
ideal of literary-humanistic scholarship (typically dressed up in the
seemingly still fashionable garb of postmodernism, poststructuralism, etc.) 
that justifies and helps to assert their own scholarly existence.

> I once read a wonderful essay by George Markus, "Why there is no
> hermeneutics of natural science" that also deals with how the field manages
> to construct itself as ahistorical and its texts as not requiring critical
> interpretation. Science would seem in many respects the very model of an
> 'autonomous field' - at least in its own eyes. And yet, in light of the
> discussion here, it may actually be less autonomous than some aesthetic
> fields (esp. the ones that can and do get by on the cheap, such as poetry),
> and this is also the burden of much recent research both in the
> 'externalist' paradigm of history of science and in the more postmodern, or
> non-modernist, science studies research.
	While the sciences are now under pressure to subordinate
themselves to the ends of governmental and economic interests, they still
retain considerable autonomy as long as the institutions that dispense
with grant money etc. are able to make decisions on the basis of
scientific argument and merit. The sciences face the same threats to 
their autonomy as do the arts, which in the U.S. have been undermined by 
neo-conservative attacks on their institutional foundations (.e.g, the NEA). 
	It is one of the unfortunate facts of our contemporary situation 
that the intellectual left, so-called, has (largely unwittingly) helped to 
undermine and delegitimize the advanced sciences and the arts through their 
one-sided attacks on cultural claims to universality.
	By contrast, Bourdieu's efforts to historicize culture aims not 
at debunking and undermining culture, but at showing that universality is 
a product of definite social conditions. In this respect, his work serves 
to bolster the autonomy of the specialized fields of culture by giving a 
more realistic view of their conditions of existence.

> While examining how a field works to construct itself as autonomous is
> extremely important, substantively and methodologically, is it perhaps a
> Whiggish and ultimately politically conservative mistake to stop with a
> notion of the autonomy of fields and not go beyond it to examine precisely
> how a field is interdependent with other fields in terms more sophisticated
> than the sorts of economic reductionism which Bourdieu's notion of autonomy
> seems originally designed to combat?
	As I understand it, Whiggish means "liberal" and broadly 
"progressive," i.e. the opposite of conservative.
	Bourdieu's efforts to overcome the "short circuit effect" of those
analyses that see culture as a reflection of economic conditions by
pointing to the existence of specialized social fields does not deny the
links that cruder sociological analyses discover. He argues that these
linkages between works of culture and economic interests must be
understood as refracted through--or mediated by--the specialized social
fields of culture.
	Regarding the politics of all of this, I think it is those who
seek merely to deny the autonomy of the sciences (or of the advanced arts)
who are flirting with conservativism and reaction. 

yours in the spirit of scientific criticism,

	George Free		Toronto, Canada




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