vendredi 5 juillet 2013

Strategic Loci.

Denis Diderot, Système Figuré des Connaissances Humaines, 1751.

Let us start with a statement of the obvious : science and technology are powerful forces in modern industrialised society and are accordingly of vital and indirect importance to many. Of course they are of central interest to scientists and science policy-makers, but they also concern parties as diverse as big industry, the military, governments, lobbies, groups of concerned citizens and the general public which may be both excited by and feel powerless in the face of scientific advance. At the same time, however, their inner workings remain opaque. The way in which their force is created and deployed is obscured by the wide range of ways in which this can occur, and by the myth-making that surrounds the whole process.

In this book we present an approach which is designed to clear such opacity. This approach permits a description of the way in which the force of science is put together (and taken apart) in the everyday activities of scientists. It also makes it possible to depict the development of domains of science by means of a method called co-word analysis. The book is thus a contribution to the study of the dynamics of science, and will be of interest to scholars in that field, to science policy-makers and, it is hoped, to scientists themselves. However, there is also a wider claim : that an understanding of the dynamics of science is only possible when the force of science in present-day societies is taken into account. Our way of starting on this task is not to present a full-blown analysis of society and social change. Rather it is to adopt a method that does not distinguish on a priori grounds between 'science' (which is purportedly about the 'truth') and 'politics' (which supposedly concerns 'power'). It is our argument that a proper understanding of social and scientific change requires the abandonment of this dichotomy.

Touraine, in one of his historical panoramas (Touraine, 1973), has attempted to identify the strategic loci in society, the hubs of change where developments are shaped and society is transformed. After the medieval monastery and cathedral, the palace became the strategic locus during the Renaissance. Only after the first phase of the Industrial Revolution was this replaced by the industrial firm, while now, according to Touraine, it is the laboratory that has, in turn, displaced the industrial firm. The argument, then, is that as a class, laboratories currently exercise crucial social power. At present it is difficult to enter into political or social struggle, or issue a challenge that might transform society, without seeking at least some support from science, its achievements and its social status. In their attempts to exert some force on society, actors typically pass through the laboratory : they wield the scientific or the technological in their attempts to transform society. Our argument, documented in the chapters that follow, is thus, that to understand our societies and their transformations we have to follow the actors and uncover the fact that not only palaces but also laboratories lie along their paths. Our study of social structure and social change thus follows Touraine's injunction to study the strategic locus of the laboratory.

Our central methodological prescription has already been stated : it is to 'follow the actors' both as they attempt to transform society and as they seek to build scientific knowledge or technological systems. But to put it this way is already misleading. In particular, it is vital not to be diverted by the myth that says that there is a gap between science and politics and that the two are, or should be, separate. Our argument which follows that of Latour (1983, p.168) is that science is politics by other means and, accordingly, that the study of science takes us straight into politics. For outsiders science and technology may take the role either of a demon or a god (Weber, 1948), while insiders mobilise both the 'scientific' and the 'political' in their endless struggles. The idea that there is a special scientific method, a realm where truth prospers in the absence of power, is a myth. Indeed, it is particularly important to follow actors closely when they enter strategic loci, for it is often in the interests of the forces at work to conceal the way they act. 

Michel Callon, John Law & Arie Rip, How to Study the Force of Science in Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology, The Macmillan Press, 1986, p.3-4.


Latour, B., (1983), Give Me a Laboratory and I will Raise the World in Knorr-Cetina, K.D. & Mulkay, M., (eds.), The Social Process of Scientific Investigation, Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook, vol.4, Reidel : Dordrecht & Boston, p.141-170.
Touraine, A., (1973), Production de la Société, Le Seuil : Paris.
Weber, M., (1948), Politics as a Vocation in Gerth, H. & Mills, C.W., (eds.), From Max Weber, Essays in Sociology, Routledge & Kegan Paul : London, p.77-128.

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