File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_1998/bourdieu.9804, message 27

Date: Wed, 08 Apr 1998 16:27:48 -0400
Subject: science in history

It seems others have cleared up some of the confusion about 'Whiggish
history' ; I certainly take it to mean the historiographical equivalent of
naive sociological functionalism, i.e. that whatever is, is as it is,
because that's the way it needs to be to work. Not even neo-Darwinians are
quite so complacent these days.

But George Free also seems to have interpreted my misgivings about the
autonomy principle (not as a starting point, but as a stopping point)
mainly in terms of what I take to be the least theoretically interesting
sense in which science is dependent on other domains of practice. He refers
to the, presumably wicked and misguided, efforts of funding agencies to
bias science away from the pure pursuit of truth according to the internal
criteria of value of the scientific field (I caricature, but to the point),
much as in the case of patrons of the arts forcing poor artists to serve
bourgeois tastes rather than pursue the avant-garde development of the art
field in its own internalist terms. In the case of the arts, I think one
recognizes the caricature as rather close to Romanticism, and quite
specific to its age of origin, when the legitimacy of bourgeois cultural
clout was highly contestable. It sounds to me equally romantic and
anachronistic to apply the same sort of analysis to the scientific field's
external dependencies.

The particular dependency I had in mind, and the one I constructed by
analogy with concerns about Bourdieu's views of linguistic capital, is the
dependence of the scientific field on the various technological fields, on
the applied sciences and the fields in relation to which the value of
scientific work is evaluated on very different terms than it might be
'internally'. This is really the core of Latour's arguments against
internalism, and they have nothing much to do with being either
anti-science or anti-rationalist. Like Bourdieu, Latour seeks to turn the
methods of historical sociology on science's claims about itself as an
institution, not on its claims about the material world. Traditional
science is somewhat embarassed by this because it has rather foolishly
claimed for a long time now that its institutional arrangements are the
guarantors of its factual credibility, whereas the actual links between
whether a theory or experimental finding is reliable enough to build a
bridge or a nuclear reactor on, and the internal operations of the
insititutional science field, are far more complex and tenuous. Moreover,
it is not just the funding of science, but the supply of workable
technology to it, the longer term effects of the usefulness of science for
technological developments, etc. that greatly influence the actual
historical course of scientific research. In many ways one could even say
that the flow of money is merely an epiphenomenon of science's dependence
on how well its products are judged to work outside its own proper field.

And such linkages seem even more critical in the case of science than for
the arts.

I have worked as a theoretical physicist in major research institutions
before turning to semiotics and other tools for analyzing social systems,
and many of my friends have been research scientists in other fields over
the years. There is nothing anti-science or anti-rational in what I have
read, certainly of Latour, and rather generally for the historical and
sociological work in the "strong program" (though sometimes their rhetoric
gets a little extreme). Most of this work simply describes what goes on in
science, and quite insightfully. It is only the internalist ideology of
science that is being criticized. Every professionalized field in modern
times has sought to monopolize control of its conditions of work (success
in this grounds Bourdieu's autonomy principle), and each has evolved an
ideology to rationalize this self-interest. It is this ideology that is
under attack, not the pursuit of useful knowledge about the material world.
Unfortunately, science was made, first by the philosophers and more
recently by politicians and corporations, into our substitute grounding for
Truth in the place of theology, and so attacks on the core ideology of
science are read as attacks on our dominant secular religion. And so they
are. I just hope fewer people get killed in this next round of religious





Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005