Archives For social epistemology

Author Information: James Collier, Virginia Tech, jim.collier@vt.edu

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3xo

Editor’s Note: The publishers of Social Epistemology—Routledge and Taylor & Francis—have been kind enough to allow me to publish the full-text “Introduction” to issues on the SERRC and on the journal’s website.

At the beginning of August 2016, I received word from Greg Feist that Sofia Liberman had died. I was taken aback having recently corresponded with Professor Liberman about the online publication of her article (coauthored with Roberto López Olmedo). Professor Liberman’s work came to my attention through her association with Greg, Mike Gorman and scholars studying the psychology of science. We offer our sincere condolences to Sofia Liberman’s family, friends and colleagues. With gratitude and great respect for her intellectual legacy, we share Sofia Liberman’s scholarship with you in this issue of Social Epistemology.

Since the advent of publishing six issues a year, we adopted the practice of printing the journal triannually; thus, combining two issues for each print edition. The result makes for a panoply of fascinating topics and arguments. Still, we invite our readers to focus on the first four articles in this edition—articles addressing topics in the psychology of science, edited by Mike Gorman and Greg Feist—as a discrete, but linked, part of the whole. These articles signal the Social Epistemology’s wish to renew ties with the psychology of science community, ties established since at least the publication of William Shadish and Steve Fuller’s edited book The Social Psychology of Science (Guilford Press) in 1993.

Beginning by reflexively tracing the trajectory of his own research Mike Gorman, and Nora Kashani, ethnographically and archivally examine the work of A. Jean Ayres. Ayers, known for inventing Sensory Integration (SI) theory, sought to identify and treat children having difficulty interpreting sensation from the body and incorporating those sensations into academic and motor learning. To gain a more comprehensive account of the development and reception of SI, Gorman and Kashani integrated a cognitive historical analysis—a sub species historiae approach—of Ayers’ research with interactions and interviews with current practitioners—an in vivo approach. Through Gorman and Kashani’s method, we map Ayers’ ability to build a network of independent students and clients leading both to the wide acceptance and later fragmentation of SI.

We want scientific research that positively transforms an area of inquiry. Yet, how do we know when we achieve such changes and, so, may determine in advance the means by which we can achieve further transformations? Barrett Anderson and Greg Feist investigate the funding of what became, after 2002, impactful articles in psychology. While assessing impact relies, in part, on citation counts, Anderson and Feist argue for “generativity” as a new index. Generative work leads to the growth of a new branch on the “tree of knowledge”. Using the tree of knowledge as a metaphorical touchstone, we can trace and measure generative work to gain a fuller sense of which factors, such as funding, policy makers might consider in encouraging transformative research.

Sofia Liberman and Roberto López Olmedo question the meaning of coauthorship for scientists. Specifically, given the contentiousness—often found in the sciences—surrounding the assignation of primary authorship of articles and the priority of discovery, what might a better understanding of the social psychology of coauthorship yield? Liberman and López Olmedo find that, for example, fields emphasizing theoretical, in contrast to, experimental practices consider different semantic relations, such as “common interest” or “active participation”, associated with coauthroship. More generally, since scientists do not hold universal values regarding collaboration, differing group dynamics and reward structures affect how one approaches and decides coauthorship. We need more research, Liberman and López Olmedo claim, to further understand scientific collaboration in order, perhaps, to encourage more, and more fruitful, collaborations across fields and disciplines.

Complex, or “wicked”, problems require the resources of multiple disciplines. Moreover, addressing such problems calls for “T-shaped” practitioners—students educated to possess, and professionals possessing, both a singular expertise—the vertical part of the “T”—and the breadth expert knowledge—the horizontal part of the “T”. On examining the origin and development of the concept of the “T-shaped” practitioner, Conley et al. share case studies involving teaching students at James Madison University and the University of Virginia learning to make the connections that underwrite “T-shaped” expertise. Conley et al. analyze the students use of concept maps to illustrate connections, and possible trading zones, among types of knowledge.

Are certain scientists uniquely positioned—given their youth or age, their insider or outsider disciplinary status to bring about scientific change? Do joint commitments to particular beliefs—and, so, an obligation to act in accord with, and not contrarily to, those beliefs—hinder one’s ability to think differently and pose potential alternative solutions? Looking at these issues, Line Andersen describes Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken’s solution to Four Color Problem—“any map can be colored with only four colors so that no two adjacent countries have the same color.” From of this case, and other examples, Andersen suggests that a scientist’s outsider status may enable scientific change.

We generally, and often blithely, assume our knowledge is fallible. What can we learn if we take fallibility rather more seriously? Stephen Kemp argues for “transformational fallibilism.” In order to improve our understanding should we question, and be willing to revise or reconstruct, any aspect in our network of understanding? How should we extend our Popperian attitude, and what we learn accordingly, to knowledge claim and forms of inquiry in other fields? Kemp advocates that we not allow our easy agreement on knowledge’s fallibility to make us passive regarding accepted knowledge claims. Rather, coming to grips with the “impermanence” of knowledge sharpens and maintains our working sense of fallible knowledge.

Derek Anderson introduces the idea of “conceptual competence injustice”. Such an injustice arises when “a member of a marginalized group is unjustly regarded as lacking conceptual or linguistic competence as a consequence of structural oppression”. Anderson details three conditions one might find in a graduate philosophy classroom. For example, a student judges a member of a marginalized group, who makes a conceptual claim, and accords their claim less credibility than it actually has. That judgment leads to a subsequent assessment regarding the marginalized person’s lower degree of competence—than they in fact have—with a relevant word or concept. By depicting conceptual competence injustice, Anderson gives us important matters to consider in deriving a more complete accounting of Miranda Fricker’s forms of epistemic injustice.

William Lynch gauges Steve Fuller’s views in support of intelligent design theory. Lynch challenges Fuller’s psychological assumptions, and corresponding questions as to what motivates human beings to do science in the first place. In creating and pursuing the means and ends of science do humans—seen as the image and likeness of God—seek to render nature intelligible and thereby know the mind of God? If we take God out of the equation—as does Darwin’s theory—how do we understand the pursuit of science in both historical and future terms? Still, as Lynch explains, Fuller desires a broader normative landscape in which human beings might rewardingly follow unachieved, unconventional or forgotten, paths to science that could yield epistemic benefits. Lynch concludes that the pursuit of parascience likely leads both to opportunism and dangerous forms of doubt in traditional science.

Exchanges on many of the articles that appear in this issue of Social Epistemology—and in recent past issues—can be found on the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective: https://social-epistemology.com/. Please join us. We realise knowledge together.

Author Information: Adam Riggio, New Democratic Party of Canada, adamriggio@gmail.com

Riggio, Adam. “Subverting Reality: We Are Not ‘Post-Truth,’ But in a Battle for Public Trust.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 3 (2017): 66-73.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3vZ

Image credit: Cornerhouse, via flickr

Note: Several of the links in this article are to websites featuring alt-right news and commentary. This exists both as a warning for offensive content, as well as a sign of precisely how offensive the content we are dealing with actually is.

An important purpose of philosophical writing for public service is to prevent important ideas from slipping into empty buzzwords. You can give a superficial answer to the meaning of living in a “post-truth” world or discourse, but the most useful way to engage this question is to make it a starting point for a larger investigation into the major political and philosophical currents of our time. Post-truth was one of the many ideas American letters haemorrhaged in the maelstrom of Trumpism’s wake, the one seemingly most relevant to the concerns of social epistemology.

It is not enough simply to say that the American government’s communications have become propagandistic, or that the Trump Administration justifies its policies with lies. This is true, but trivial. We can learn much more from philosophical analysis. In public discourse, the stability of what information, facts, and principles are generally understood to be true has been eroding. General agreement on which sources of information are genuinely reliable in their truthfulness and trustworthiness has destabilized and diverged. This essay explores one philosophical hypothesis as to how that happened: through a sustained popular movement of subversion – subversion of consensus values, of reliability norms about information sources, and of who can legitimately claim the virtues of subversion itself. The drive to speak truth to power is today co-opted to punch down at the relatively powerless. This essay is a philosophical examination of how that happens.

Subversion as a Value and an Act

A central virtue in contemporary democracy is subversion. To be a subversive is to progress society against conservative, oppressive forces. It is to commit acts that transgress popular morality while providing a simultaneous critique of it. As new communities form in a society, or as previously oppressed communities push for equal status and rights, subversion calls attention to the inadequacy of currently mainstream morality to the new demands of this social development. Subversive acts can be publications, artistic works, protests, or even the slow process of conducting your own life publicly in a manner that transgresses mainstream social norms and preconceptions about what it is right to do.

Values of subversiveness are, therefore, politically progressive in their essence. The goal of subversion values is to destabilize an oppressive culture and its institutions of authority, in the name of greater inclusiveness and freedom. This is clear when we consider the popular paradigm case of subversive values: punk rock and punk culture. In the original punk and new wave scenes of 1970s New York and Britain, we can see subversion values in action. Punk’s embrace of BDSM and drag aesthetics subvert the niceties of respectable fashion. British punk’s embrace of reggae music promotes solidarity with people oppressed by racist and colonialist norms. Most obviously, punk enshrined a morality of musical composition through simplicity, jamming, and enthusiasm. All these acts and styles subverted popular values that suppressed all but vanilla hetero sexualities, marginalized immigrant groups and ethnic minorities, denigrated the poor, and esteemed an erudite musical aesthetic.

American nationalist conservatism today has adopted the form and rhetoric of subversion values, if not the content. The decadent, oppressive mainstream the modern alt-right opposes and subverts is a general consensus of liberal values – equal rights regardless of race or gender, an imperative to build a fair economy for all citizens, end police oppressive of marginalized communities, and so on. Alt-right activists push for the return of segregation and even ethnic cleansing of Hispanics from the United States. Curtis Yarvin, the intellectual centre of America’s alt-right, openly calls for an end to democratic institutions and their replacement with government by a neo-cameralist state structure that replaces citizenship with shareholds and reduces all public administration and foreign policy to the aim of profit. Yet because these ideas are a radical front opposing a broadly liberal democratic mainstream culture, alt-right activists declare themselves punk. They claim subversiveness in their appropriation of punk fashion in apparel and hair, and their gleeful offensiveness to liberal sensibilities with their embrace of public bigotry.

Subversion Logics: The Vicious Paradox and Trolling

Alt-right discourse and aesthetic claim to have inherited subversion values because their activists oppose a liberal democratic mainstream whose presumptions include the existence of universal human rights and the encouragement of cultural, ethnic, and gender diversity throughout society. If subversion values are defined entirely according to the act of subverting any mainstream, then this is true. But this would decouple subversion values from democratic political thought. At question in this essay – and at this moment in human democratic civilization – is whether such decoupling is truly possible.

If subversion as an act is decoupled from democratic values, then we can understand it as the act of forcing an opponent into a vicious paradox. One counters an opponent by interpreting their position as implying a hypocritical or self-contradictory logic. The most general such paradox is Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance. Alt-right discourse frames their most bigoted communications as subversive acts of total free speech – an absolutism of freedom that decries as censorship any critique or opposition to what they say. This is true whether they write on a comment thread, through an anonymous Twitter feed, or on a stage at UC Berkeley. We are left with the apparent paradox that a democratic society must, if we are to respect our democratic values without being hypocrites ourselves, accept the rights of the most vile bigots to spread racism, misogyny, anti-trans and heterosexist ideas, Holocaust denial, and even the public release of their opponents’ private information. As Popper himself wrote, the only response to such an argument is to deny its validity – a democratic society cannot survive if it allows its citizens to argue and advocate for the end of democracy. The actual hypocritical stance is free speech absolutism: permitting assaults on democratic society and values in the name of democracy itself.

Trolling, the chief rhetorical weapon of the alt-right, is another method of subversion, turning an opponent’s actions against herself. To troll is to communicate with statements so dripping in irony that an opponent’s own opposition can be turned against itself. In a simple sense, this is the subversion of insults into badges of honour and vice versa. Witness how alt-right trolls refer to themselves as shitlords, or denounce ‘social justice warriors’ as true fascists. But trolling also includes a more complex rhetorical strategy. For example, one posts a violent, sexist, or racist meme – say, Barack Obama as a witch doctor giving Brianna Wu a lethal injection. If you criticize the post, they respond that they were merely trying to bait you, and mock you as a fragile fool who takes people seriously when they are not – a snowflake. You are now ashamed, having fallen into their trap of baiting earnest liberals into believing in the sincerity of their racism, so you encourage people to dismiss such posts as ‘mere trolling.’ This allows for a massive proliferation of racist, misogynist, anti-democratic ideas under the cover of being ‘mere trolling’ or just ‘for the lulz.’

No matter the content of the ideology that informs a subversive act, any subversive rhetoric challenges truth. Straightforwardly, subversion challenges what a preponderant majority of a society takes to be true. It is an attack on common sense, on a society’s truisms, on that which is taken for granted. In such a subversive social movement, the agents of subversion attack common sense truisms because of their conviction that the popular truisms are, in fact, false, and their own perspective is true, or at least acknowledges more profound and important truths than what they attack. As we tell ourselves the stories of our democratic history, the content of those subversions were actually true. Now that the loudest voices in American politics claiming to be virtuous subversives support nationalist, racist, anti-democratic ideologies, we must confront the possibility that those who speak truth to power have a much more complicated relationship with facts than we often believe.

Fake News as Simply Lies

Fake news is the central signpost of what is popularly called the ‘post-truth’ era, but it quickly became a catch-all term that refers to too many disparate phenomena to be useful. When preparing for this series of articles, we at the Reply Collective discussed the influence of post-modern thinkers on contemporary politics, particularly regarding climate change denialism. But I don’t consider contemporary fake news as having roots in these philosophies. The tradition is regarded in popular culture (and definitely in self-identified analytic philosophy communities) as destabilizing the possibility of truth, knowledge, and even factuality.

This conception is mistaken, as any attentive reading of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Francois Lyotard, or Jean Beaudrillard will reveal that they were concerned – at least on the question of knowledge and truth – with demonstrating that there were many more ways to understand how we justify our knowledge and the nature of facticity than any simple propositional definition in a Tarskian tradition can include. There are more ways to understand knowledge and truth than seeing whether and how a given state of affairs grounds the truth and truth-value of a description. A recent article by Steve Fuller at the Institute of Art and Ideas considers many concepts of truth throughout the history of philosophy more complicated than the popular idea of simple correspondence. So when we ask whether Trumpism has pushed us into a post-truth era, we must ask which concept of truth had become obsolete. Understanding what fake news is and can be, is one productive probe of this question.

So what are the major conceptions of ‘fake news’ that exist in Western media today? I ask this question with the knowledge that, given the rapid pace of political developments in the Trump era, my answers will probably be obsolete, or at least incomplete, by publication. The proliferation of meanings that I now describe happened in popular Western discourse in a mere two months from Election Day to Inauguration Day. My account of these conceptual shifts in popular discourse shows how these shifts of meaning have acquired such speed.

Fake news, as a political phenomenon, exists as one facet of a broad global political culture where the destabilization of what gets to count as a fact and how or why a proposition may be considered factual has become fully mainstream. As Bruno Latour has said, the destabilization of facticity’s foundation is rooted in the politics and epistemology of climate change denialism, the root of wider denialism of any real value for scientific knowledge. The centrepiece of petroleum industry public relations and global government lobbying efforts, climate change denialism was designed to undercut the legitimacy of international efforts to shift global industry away from petroleum reliance. Climate change denial conveniently aligns with the nationalist goals of Trump’s administration, since a denialist agenda requires attacking American loyalty to international emissions reduction treaties and United Nations environmental efforts. Denialism undercuts the legitimacy of scientific evidence for climate change by countering the efficacy of its practical epistemic truth-making function. It is denial and opposition all the way down. Ontologically, the truth-making functions of actual states of affairs on climatological statements remain as fine as they always were. What’s disappeared is the popular belief in the validity of those truth-makers.

So the function of ‘fake news’ as an accusation is to sever the truth-making powers of the targeted information source for as many people who hear the accusation as possible. The accusation is an attempt to deny and destroy a channel’s credibility as a source of true information. To achieve this, the accusation itself requires its own credibility for listeners. The term ‘fake news’ first applied to the flood of stories and memes flowing from a variety of dubious websites, consisting of uncorroborated and outright fabricated reports. The articles and images originated on websites based largely in Russia and Macedonia, then disseminated on Facebook pages like Occupy Democrats, Eagle Rising, and Freedom Daily, which make money using clickthrough-generating headlines and links. Much of the extreme white nationalist content of these pages came, in addition to the content mills of eastern Europe, from radical think tanks and lobby groups like the National Policy Institute. These feeds are a very literal definition of fake news: content written in the form of actual journalism so that their statements appear credible, but communicating blatant lies and falsehoods.

The feeds and pages disseminating these nonsensical stories were successful because the infrastructure of Facebook as a medium incentivizes comforting falsehoods over inconvenient truths. Its News Feed algorithm is largely a similarity-sorting process, pointing a user to sources that resemble what has been engaged before. Pages and websites that depend on by-clickthrough advertising revenue will therefore cater to already-existing user opinions to boost such engagement. A challenging idea that unsettles a user’s presumptions about the world will receive fewer clickthroughs because people tend to prefer hearing what they already agree with. The continuing aggregation of similarity after similarity reinforces your perspective and makes changing your mind even harder than it usually is.

Trolling Truth Itself

Donald Trump is an epically oversignified cultural figure. But in my case for the moment, I want to approach him as the most successful troll in contemporary culture. In his 11 January 2017 press conference, Trump angrily accused CNN and Buzzfeed of themselves being “fake news.” This proposition seems transparent, at first, as a clear act of trolling, a President’s subversive action against critical media outlets. Here, the insulting meaning of the term is retained, but its reference has shifted to cover the Trump-critical media organizations that first brought the term to ubiquity shortly after the 8 November 2016 election. The intention and meaning of the term has been turned against those who coined it.

In this context, the nature of the ‘post-truth’ era of politics appears simple. We are faced with two duelling conceptions of American politics and global social purpose. One is the Trump Administration, with its propositions about the danger of Islamist terror and the size of this year’s live Inauguration audience. The other is the usual collection of news outlets referred to as the mainstream media. Each gives a presentation of what is happening regarding a variety of topics, neither of which is compatible, both of which may be accurate to greater or lesser degrees in each instance. The simple issue is that the Trump Administration pushes easily falsified transparent propaganda such as the lie about an Islamist-led mass murder in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This simple issue becomes an intractable problem because significantly large spaces in the contemporary media economy constitutes a hardening of popular viewpoints into bubbles of self-reinforcing extremism. Thanks to Facebook’s sorting algorithms, there will likely always be a large group of Trumpists who will consider all his administration’s blatant lies to be truth.

This does not appear to be a problem for philosophy, but for public relations. We can solve this problem of the intractable audience for propaganda by finding or creating new paths to reach people in severely comforting information bubbles. There is a philosophical problem, but it is far more profound than even this practically difficult issue of outreach. The possibility conditions for the character of human society itself is the fundamental battlefield in the Trumpist era.

The accusation “You are fake news!” of Trump’s January press conference delivered a tactical subversion, rendering the original use of the term impossible. The moral aspects of this act of subversion appeared a few weeks later, in a 7 February interview Trump Administration communications official Sebastian Gorka did with Michael Medved. Gorka’s words first appear to be a straightforward instance of authoritarian delegitimizing of opposition, as he equates ‘fake news’ with opposition to President Trump. But Gorka goes beyond this simple gesture to contribute to a re-valuation of the values of subversion and opposition in our cultural discourse. He accuses Trump-critical news organizations of such a deep bias and hatred of President Trump and Trumpism that they themselves have failed to understand and perceive the world correctly. The mainstream media have become untrustworthy, says Gorka, not merely because many of their leaders and workers oppose President Trump, but because those people no longer understand the world as it is. That conclusion is, as Breitbart’s messaging would tell us, the reason to trust the mainstream media no longer is their genuine ignorance. And because it was a genuine mistake about the facts of the world, that accusation of ignorance and untrustworthiness is actually legitimate.

Real Failures of Knowledge

Donald Trump, as well as the political movements that backed his Presidential campaign and the anti-EU side of the Brexit referendum, knew something about the wider culture that many mainstream analysts and journalists did not: they knew that their victory was possible. This is not a matter of ideology, but a fact about the world. It is not a matter of interpretive understanding or political ideology like the symbolic meanings of a text, object, or gesture, but a matter of empirical knowledge. It is not a straightforward fact like the surface area of my apartment building’s front lawn or the number of Boeing aircraft owned by KLM. Discovering such a fact as the possibility conditions and likelihood of an election or referendum victory involving thousands of workers, billions of dollars of infrastructure and communications, and millions of people deliberating over their vote or refusal to vote is a massively complicated process. But it is still an empirical process and can be achieved to varying levels of success and failure. In the two most radical reversals of the West’s (neo)liberal democratic political programs in decades, the press as an institution failed to understand what is and is not possible.

Not only that, these organizations know they have failed, and know that their failure harms their reputation as sources of trustworthy knowledge about the world. Their knowledge of their real inadequacy can be seen in their steps to repair their knowledge production processes. These efforts are not a submission to the propagandistic demands of the Trump Presidency, but an attempt to rebuild real research capacities after the internet era’s disastrous collapse of the traditional newspaper industry. Through most of the 20th century, the news media ecology of the United States consisted of a hierarchy of local, regional, and inter/national newspapers. Community papers reported on local matters, these reports were among the sources for content at regional papers, and those regional papers in turn provided source material for America’s internationally-known newsrooms in the country’s major urban centres. This information ecology was the primary route not only for content, but for general knowledge of cultural developments beyond those few urban centres.

With the 21st century, it became customary to read local and national news online for free, causing sales and advertising revenue for those smaller newspapers to collapse. The ensuing decades saw most entry-level journalism work become casual and precarious, cutting off entry to the profession from those who did not have the inherited wealth to subsidize their first money-losing working years. So most poor and middle class people were cut off from work in journalism, removing their perspectives and positionality from the field’s knowledge production. The dominant newspaper culture that centred all content production in and around a local newsroom persisted into the internet era, forcing journalists to focus their home base in major cities. So investigation outside major cities rarely took place beyond parachute journalism, visits by reporters with little to no cultural familiarity with the region. This is a real failure of empirical knowledge gathering processes. Facing this failure, major metropolitan news organizations like the New York Times and Mic have begun building a network of regional bureaus throughout the now-neglected regions of America, where local independent journalists are hired as contractual workers to bring their lived experiences to national audiences.

America’s Democratic Party suffered a similar failure of knowledge, having been certain that the Trump campaign could never have breached the midwestern regions – Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania – that for decades have been strongholds of their support in Presidential elections. I leave aside the critical issue of voter suppression in these states to concentrate on a more epistemic aspect of Trump’s victory. This was the campaign’s unprecedented ability to craft messages with nuanced detail. Cambridge Analytica, the data analysis firm that worked for both Trump and leave.eu, provided the power to understand and target voter outreach with almost individual specificity. This firm derives incredibly complex and nuanced data sets from the Facebook behaviour of hundreds of millions of people, and is the most advanced microtargeting analytics company operating today. They were able to craft messages intricately tailored to individual viewers and deliver them through Facebook advertising. So the Trump campaign has a legitimate claim to have won based on superior knowledge of the details of the electorate and how best to reach and influence them.

Battles Over the Right to Truth

With this essay, I have attempted an investigation that is a blend of philosophy and journalism, an examination of epistemological aspects of dangerous and important contemporary political and social phenomena and trends. After such a mediation, I feel confident in proposing the following conclusions.

1) Trumpist propaganda justifies itself with an exclusive and correct claim to reliability as a source of knowledge: that the Trump campaign was the only major information source covering the American election that was always certain of the possibility that they could win. That all other media institutions at some point did not understand or accept the truth of Trump’s victory being possible makes them less reliable than the Trump team and Trump personally.

2) The denial of a claim’s legitimacy as truth, and of an institution’s fidelity to informing people of truths, has become such a powerful weapon of political rhetoric that it has ended all cross-partisan agreement on what sources of information about the wider world are reliable.

3) Because of the second conclusion, journalism has become an unreliable set of knowledge production techniques. The most reliable source of knowledge about that election was the analysis of mass data mining Facebook profiles, the ground of all Trump’s public outreach communications. Donald Trump became President of the United States with the most powerful quantitative sociology research program in human history.

4) This is Trumpism’s most powerful claim to the mantle of the true subversives of society, the virtuous rebel overthrowing a corrupt mainstream. Trumpism’s victory, which no one but Trumpists themselves thought possible, won the greatest achievement of any troll. Trumpism has argued its opponent into submission, humiliated them for the fact of having lost, then turned out to be right anyway.

The statistical analysis and mass data mining of Cambridge Analytica made Trump’s knowledge superior to that of the entire journalistic profession. So the best contribution that social epistemology as a field can make to understanding our moment is bringing all its cognitive and conceptual resources to an intense analysis of statistical knowledge production itself. We must understand its strengths and weaknesses – what statistical knowledge production emphasizes in the world and what escapes its ability to comprehend. Social epistemologists must ask themselves and each other: What does qualitative knowledge discover and allow us to do, that quantitative knowledge cannot? How can the qualitative form of knowledge uncover a truth of the same profundity and power to popularly shock an entire population as Trump’s election itself?

Author Information: Frank Scalambrino franklscalambrino@gmail.com

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nI

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

Please refer to:

group_account

Image credit: Walt Jabsco, via flickr

Presently my interest in social epistemology is primarily related to policy development. Though I continue to be interested in the ways technology influences the formation of social identities, I also want to examine corporate agency. On the one hand, this relates to the notion of persona ficta and the idea that, beyond the persons comprising a group, a group itself may be considered a “person.” Take, for example, search committees for tenure-track professor positions. There is a sense in which the committee is supposed to represent the interests of the persona ficta of some group, be it the department, the university, etc. Otherwise, it would simply be the case that the committees were representing their own desires, or merely applying a merit-based template, and though the former characterization may often be true, the latter is clearly not the case. Moreover, because the decision-making is supposed to be in the name of, and based on the authority of, the persona ficta, the members of the search committee are supposedly not personally responsible for the decisions made. The questions raised by such a situation in which a persona ficta may be seen as a kind of mask covering the true social relations within the group determining the group’s decisions, I contextualize in terms of social epistemology.

On the other hand, I am interested in thinking about corporate agency and its efficacy in social environments. This is not unrelated to the question of the relation between the interests, knowledge, and actions of the corporate members which in some sense condition and sustain different types of (persona ficta) corporate agents. In other words, it is as if the collective interests, knowledge, and actions of members of a group constitute a kind of collective agent back to which changes in the world may be traced. I am interested in what I consider to be the ethical questions, which to some degree should factor into the various organizations of knowledge and power which sustain such corporate agents. To put it more narrowly and concretely would be to say, social epistemology may help us locate the points at which constitutive group members may be accountable for their contributions otherwise masked by some persona ficta. Subsequently, such accountability may be worked into policy development.

Author Information: Robert Frodeman, University of North Texas, Robert.Frodeman@unt.edu

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nN

Please refer to:

dickins_christmas

Image credit: valkrye131, via flickr

As we do every holiday season, last night we watched the 1951 version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol. It was deeply comforting, and deeply troubling. It’s great because the director (Desmond-Hurst) treats the subject matter with the gravity and modesty it deserves. This is the version that haunted my childhood: how Marley’s face on the door knocker frightened me, as did his banging of chains. Ditto the hand that juts out from the black figure of the ghost of Christmas Future.

But what frightens me now is what the story portends for our future. The movie declares that it’s a story of redemption, or as it says, of (individual) reclamation. But it is about something more fundamental than that. It assumes the existence of a moral and metaphysical order. The accounts always balance: Marley wears the chains he forged in life, and if Scrooge is to avoid the same fate he must come to his senses. Of course, terrible injustices exist in Dicken’s London, but there is a stability to the world that is intensely consoling. Now, however, it’s this stability and consolation that’s been lost.

I feel that the greatest task of the philosopher—I mean the term in a generic sense, which includes STSers and many others—is to try to identify the deepest, most profound, and most significant problem of his or her time and think it through. Of course, people will differ in their evaluation of what this is. But that’s ok. In fact it’s good, for it increases the chances that someone will get lucky and hit upon the right problem. This is what led me to environmental philosophy, and then to interdisciplinarity, and most recently to what might be called policy studies but which is really about thinking through the problem of the mismatch between the supply and the demand for knowledge.

Now, all these issues remain central. But I am increasingly gripped by the sense that it is our loss of a moral and metaphysical order that is the chief problem of our time—an instability that is being driven by science and technology. It’s a point that Ted Kaczynski spotted early, though I reject his methods. When I read about the latest developments in AI and DIYbiology I feel a world spinning out of control—and feel that it is this feeling, mis-interpreted, that has led us to Trump. It’s spawned a wildness that expresses itself in Trump’s statements and behavior, and of some of those who support him, a feeling that things have been spinning out of control (MAGA); but rather than trying to react in a conservative or Burkean manner to reestablish order, the urge has now become nihilistic, expressing itself as authoritarianism and irrationality—Bannon’s ‘let’s blow up the entire system’ and the GOP’s ‘who cares if Putin threw the election, our guy won’.

So it is that here, teaching in Texas, I find myself saying repeatedly to my classes: you guys say you are christian; you picket abortion clinics; but why aren’t you picketing the biology building, which represents a much greater threat to your world order? In this sense I think Fuller is correct, that our political choices are reorienting themselves from left-right to what might be called black-green—that the real debate before us is between those who seek deification via technoscience, versus those hoary old metaphysicians who declaim the folly of that path and call for the observance of some type of larger order and limit.

It’s a battle that I fear I am on the losing side of. Which goes a long way to explain my love of old movies like A Christmas Carol, where I can (for all the Jim Crow or sexism or other stupidities) for an hour or two find a moral and metaphysical order that offers me solace.

Post-Truth Blues? Adam Briggle

SERRC —  December 22, 2016 — 6 Comments

Author Information: Adam Briggle, University of North Texas, Adam.Briggle@unt.edu

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nc

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

Please refer to:

the_blues

Image credit: Tim, via flickr

I think that 2017 might find social epistemologists busy reckoning with the fallout from the word of the year in 2016: post-truth. The definition for post-truth is: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The Oxford English Dictionary online gives this example: “in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire.”

Bruno Latour might snidely conclude that “we have always been post-truth,” because there never was such a thing as objectivity and cherry-picking data is a game as old as data. Steve Fuller wrote something similar in a recent column. Daniel Sarewitz might as well just say “No duh! We have long suffered from an ‘excess of objectivity’!”

Finally, the world has bought what we have been selling! Oh…hmmm …

Now, maybe it is just my weak stomach, but I am feeling queasy with sellers’ remorse. If all expertise is just institutionalized power, then forget the fourth branch of government—CIA, DOE, EPA, Economic Council of Advisors, Department of Education—all of it is suspect and subject to revision. It strikes me as eerily similar to the conditions in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany that prompted Robert K. Merton to articulate the normative structure of science. Or maybe it is better thought of as “the problem of extension:” Perhaps someone other than a nuclear physicist can run the DOE, given that it is tangled up in all sorts of non-technical aspects of society, but Rick Perry?

I wonder if some of us might whistle a guilty tune under our breath, turn around and start re-assembling some of the structures we had earlier pulled apart.

Deconstructing such wooly myths like ‘objective facts’ I wonder if the social epistemology crowd might feel a bit of sellers’ remorse on this score.

Author Information: Mark D. West, University of North Carolina, Asheville, west@unca.edu

West, Mark D. “The Holidays and What is Given.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 12 (2016): 17-19.

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3mV

Please refer to:

winter_fog

Image credit: geir tønnessen, via flickr

We have reached the holidays, and for some of us, these are happy times. The media, at least, treat these days as if the merriment and cheer are givens; decorations festoon stores and public places, and music about Christmas cheer permeates any space; where two or more are gathered; there “Jingle Bell Rock” is in their midst.

In the Jewish tradition, winter season means a hanukkiah will make its yearly appearance, with the story of how one’s family came to own it. A normal menorah has seven branches, each with a candle holder; a hanukkiah has an eighth helper candle, which is out of line with the others. The hanukkiah is used only on Hanukkah, with its light serving no function other than to recall the miracle of Hanukkah.

Every hanukkiah brings with it a story, and every hanukkiah is itself a gift of memory. Our hanukkiah was carried by my cousin through the streets of Jerusalem, down the crowded streets, and across the United States, finally coming to rest in our home, a gift after many years of travel. Other families tell stories of hanukkiah smuggled from foreign countries under the glare of repressive regimes, carried in suitcases through customs at Ellis Island, bought for pennies in shtetls in lands long fled. The hanukkiah is a given of the holiday, and is, often, itself, a given. Like a menorah, it gives light; but the light is for only one purpose—a ‘given’ purpose.

Gift and Given

Considering that the root of both ‘gift’ and ‘given’ is the Proto-Indo-European root *ghabh-, “to give or receive”, I don’t think it is too far afield, in this season of giving and receiving, to consider not only gifts but givens, which, after all, to be givens must have been given by someone or something. As such, we might ask ourselves as social epistemologists what are the givens of our field, and what does it mean, in Jean-Luc Marion’s pregnant formulation, to exist in the realm of the “étant donné,” the “being given?”

What I mean by that is that we (the rational ‘cogita’ who operate as the members of the SERRC) take ourselves as ‘givens,’ as ‘données.’ From our own existence, we bootstrap the existence of groups (if I can exist, then I must, as a good agent of the Enlightenment, grant such agency to others, who as aggregates, are groups). Once we assume our own existence as a ‘given,’ we can take as our ‘given’ the group; and our ‘gift’ to the world of the philosophical is the notion of group epistemology. Particularly in this age of the Internet, and of electronic publications and forums, the disembodied res cogitans of Descartes is closer to our felt sense of what we are, as a group, than we might wish.

The cogito, and various discussions of it such as Hintikka’s (1962, reprinted in 1967), are familiar to all. But, as Williams (2014) suggests, the Cartesian argument (“cogito, ergo sum”) is posed in a more complex manner than the familiar formulation has it; Descartes imagines first the existence of a deity, then (implicitly) a self thinking of that deity and the qualities of that deity including benevolence; then he imagines that some malicious entity might cause him to perceive the world and its qualities in some way that does not accurately reflect the real. But, reasons Descartes, he himself is thinking, and from that he bootstraps that he exists; hence “cogito, ergo sum” is the endpoint, not the beginning, of a thought process; and that thought process is more akin to an intuition than to a proof, one which Stone (1993) argues is best understood as an enthymeme. Boos (1983) argues that the cogito’s ‘thoughtless thinking’ must be about something; and that the Cartesian formulation ends up as a metalogical formulation something like “If I doubt that I am, I am,” with the “I am” serving as the “point ferme” of Gueroult (1953) and the Archimedian fixed point of the cogito’s Gödelian diagonal lemma.

As Boos suggests, the implication of this is clear; this sounds suspiciously like a variant of the Hintikka’s Positive Introspection Axiom (the KK-thesis), which argues that agents know that they know what they know. The debate concerning this thesis is substantial (see, for example, Williamson 2000; Ginet 1970; Carrier 1974). But our theorizing must begin somewhere; we must accept some sort of metatheoretic notion if we are to devise theories at all. In our case, if we are to speak of groups, there must be individuals, and the first individual of all is “I.” That is our given, if we are to avoid the endless cycle of “no more this than that” of the Pyrrhonian skeptics.

Assumptions and Limitations

This is not to say that a domain of study can not function with a fully negative conceptualization of its object of study. Jean-Luc Marion, in his book God Without Being (1995), considers the limiting case of an apophatic theology; if we can, as Maimonides (Benor 1995) argued, make only negative assertions as to the attributions of a divine entity, are we not at some point forced to suggest that even being is an attribute which the divine entity does not possess?

As Marion (2002) suggests, the givenness of the existence of a divine entity is not the predicate of theology, but the existence of those searching for the divine entity is; as Kaplan (2010) argued, it is possible to have Judaism without a deity, but not without Jews. In a philosophical vein, how does one privilege Husserl’s Gegebenheit (Leask 2003) without merely assuming it as a given? How do we understand Being without taking it as given, and without somehow making that ‘given’ into a ‘Given,’ with a somehow transcendental ‘Giver?’

We, as social epistemologists, are in an interesting position with such questions. We, at some level, are can-kickers par excellence; in our struggle to explain knowledge structures as arising from groups, we are indeed situated in a local struggle, with its own give and take. But sometimes, perhaps, we should look up from our regional debates, and consider the larger issues afield; the “not yet” of Hegel’s “tarrying with the negative” (Foshay 2002) of these limits of the Given, and of the gifts we receive, and give, as a result of this struggle.

References

Benor, Ehud Z. “Meaning and Reference in Maimonides’ Negative Theology.” Harvard Theological Review 88, no. 3 (1995): 339-360.

Boos, William. “A Self-Referential ‘Cogito’.” Philosophical Studies 44, no. 2 (1983): 269-290.

Carrier, L. S. “Skepticism Made Certain.” The Journal of Philosophy 71, no 5 (1974): 140-150.

Foshay, Raphael. “‘Tarrying with the Negative’: Bataille and Derrida’s Reading of Negation in Hegel’s Phenomenology.” The Heythrop Journal 43, no. 3 (2002): 295-310.

Ginet, Carl. “What Must be Added to Knowing to Obtain Knowing That One Knows?” Synthese 21 no. 2 (1970): 163-186.

Gueroult, Martial. Descartes Selon L’ordre des Raisons, 2 vols. (Descartes’ Philosophy Interpreted according to the Order of Reasons). Paris: Aubier, 1953.

Hintikka, Jaakko. “Cogito, Ergo Sum: Inference or Performance?” In Descartes – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Willis Doney, 108-139. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1967.

Kaplan, Mordecai M. Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life. Jewish Publication Society, 2010.

Leask, Ian. “Husserl, Givenness, and the Priority of the Self.” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 11, no. 2 (2003): 141-156.

Marion, Jean-Luc. God Without Being: Hors-Texte. University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Marion, Jean-Luc. Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness. Stanford University Press, 2002.

Stone, Jim. “Cogito Ergo Sum.” The Journal of Philosophy 90, no. 9 (1993): 462-468.

Williams, Bernard. Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Williamson, Timothy. Knowledge and Its Limits. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Author Information: Clarissa Ai Ling Lee, National University of Malaysia, call@ukm.edu.my

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3mK

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor. For this post, Clarissa was kind enough share, and write a new abstract for, “ArtScientist/ScienceArtist: Finding a Creative-Intellectual Room of One’s Own” from her rebooted blog Lateral Worlds.

art-science

Image credit: Carlos Andrés Reyes, via flickr

In thinking about a direction for 2017, this blog post concerns some of the practical directions I hope to take with my work as a social epistemologist. That comes in the form of navigating the possibilities and difficulties of creating a potential for consilience between the arts and the sciences, not so much from the idea of a unity as that tends to sub-serve socially and economically more dominant epistemology over the other, but in terms of the method and process of creating new knowledge. Such negotiation can be referred to as “artscience” or “science-art”, one that operates less from and obligation to cross between the arts and the sciences than a necessity of moving away from thinking in terms of binarism or pluralism. What this could mean in practice is something the post explores.

Now that I am going from full-time vacation to half-time in the week leading up to Christmas, the start of the second week of vacation cum transition period is also a good time to do a sort of personal review of a book, David Edwards’s ArtScience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation, and explain what it means for me as I am now configuring my research programme for the next year, to combine the interests and work started in the past I had not have a chance to pursue further due to various constraints with the work I do now. Most importantly, I have to figure out how to work with what I do have, or that which I can access.

I bought this book on a whim, four years ago, from the enormous Powell’s warehouse in Portland, OR, and only finished reading it yesterday. It is a quarto-size book of about 190++ pages, and quite an accessible read despite being a scholarly book, although this depends on the reader’s inclination and how much time he/she wants to take with it. Edwards actually breaks up the explication of the subject in a rather topically coherent manner, across seven chapters. He breaks up the story that he tells about the artscientists/science-artists across the chapters to highlight relevant aspects of their stories to the theme of each of the chapter they appear in. Edwards uses the term artscientists in the book, though I would like to split that up for reasons I will explain in the next paragraph. The aert scientist is a term to denote those whose work do not quite fit into the box of their disciplines, yet whose explorations outside that box are integral to inventing novel, though not entirely unprecedented from a global intellectual history perspective, ways of not only thinking about their fields, but also about how to make their contributions matter beyond the confines of their fields.

As Edwards is particularly interested in those whose work straddle the artistic and the scientific, he does not spend much time in talking about those whose work are largely confined to singles cultural fields (be they only within the humanities, the social sciences, or the sciences/engineering), probably because they would not fulfill the goal of bridging the “two cultures” first explicitly underlined by C.P. Snow, nor would they be accurately considered as art-scientists or science-artists. Nevertheless, one could consider the book itself as an engagement into transdisciplinary epistemology and practice by nature of its advocacy for the production of ways of knowing that are still emergent. I will not actually talk about the cases Edwards use in the book as this is not that kind of review, but rather, how the arguments of the book work for me intellectually, and for my intellectual projects. But I highly recommend that book to anyone interested in the discussion of transdisciplinary artscience practices as the explication of the topic in this book is quite inspiring, even if not perfect. Moreover, unlike works that would take very particular views, Edwards appears open to considering the multiple ways in which such practices manifest not merely within obvious sites, or sites that are familiar ground to him, but outside of those comfort zones.

The artscientist is someone who does not feel that using merely the tools dictated by the authorities of their discipline help them in answering the questions they pose, or even allow them to bring their own disciplinary professional engagement to a level that is satisfying and fulfilling – the sense that life is lived to the full. While Edwards uses the term artscientist to discuss those who make art a part of their  scientific method inasmuch as they make science a practice of their art, I would like to talk about the science-artist to denote a scientist who uses art as a research method, or even one who sees themselves as natural scientist (or one who has the temperament of a scientist), or even an engineer and technologist, but does not turn to the usual method for approaching the science – instead, they have natural affinity with the process of artistic creation (or artistic approach) to working with the science of their choice – taking on the tools of an artist and not calling themselves scientists even if they might possess some of the same specialty knowledge (or almost equivalent level of knowledge); and in some cases, even advanced training in the sciences, but choose not to identify professionally as a scientist, nor work in another field of humanities and the social scientist that do not challenge the dominant doctrines from their scientific training. Some might even choose to work with their science outside the constraints of the laboratory, a specific fieldwork as usually defined by their science, or the computer and blackboard without complete disconnection from such tools or sites.

The art can come in many forms – it could be textual-visual, tactile, kinetic, audio, and any other form and method of artistic expression. Some of the examples Edwards uses represent those who could potentially be identify as such, though for the most part, his artscientists are still wedded to some form of disciplinarity, even if they assimilate processes and ideas that fall outside of the disciplines they work from. As he admits, almost all of his case studies receive support, at varying levels, from institutions even if that support was not directly for the process of their engagement, but rather, the successful outcome stemming from the process. The way an science-artist works follows the indefinable/lateral processes that Edwards talk about, but their work might not necessarily be accepted by other scientists, or even those who profess themselves as guardians of the scientific method (which could therefore include philosophers of science, historians of science, and sociologists of science). In other words, the work of this group of people might be largely invisible, or perhaps only be known by other identifiers that obfuscate the science-artist nature of the work or process. One thing that Edwards mentioned in the final chapter of the book is revealing of the true nature of the art-scientist/science-artist – their work cannot be replicated or repeated easily by others because they are not using methods that could be readily identified or even transmitted, not even by another artscientist/science-artist. In other words, the method is not methodical, the system is systematic but not reducible to distinguishable parts.

Even as he tells stories of these inspirational men and women who consider the process as important, if not more important, than the end goal of the achievement, and acknowledges the difficulties under which they operate, many of his examples are successful men and women from largely privileged and well-resourced backgrounds – if they were not already privileged from the beginning, they attained the position of privilege by the time they were at the prime of their creative lives. Even if there is no specific and well-defined resource or institution that supports their work, these men and women have enough access to certain resources to allow their work to continue on the side.  It is the same whether one operates from the first world, with many resources, or in the third world, where the resources are  less accessible to those not from a sufficiently elite background. That said, I am interested in exploring how one could make the ideas of artscience practice work for someone without institutional support and how one could go about building the required networks and resources to do the work.

Most importantly, I am interested in knowing how one could integrate many of the foundational inquiries of an artscience/science-art work into larger social-epistemological issues involving problems of disability (one of the gripes I have with the book is the lack of a sufficiently diverse example of an artscientist/science-artist who has to grapple with much more than epistemic/intellectual/creative resistance to their cause), lack of material resource (as a neoliberal economy has made less and less knowledge accessible while expecting ‘originality’ that stems from having access),  social prejudices/bigotry, and many other forms of inqeuity that the knowledge/creative worker operates from.  For artscience not to replicate the same hegemonic and stiffling ideologies of the other academic/industrial/’creative’ institutions, it must not operate from a position of political indifference or ignorance. Edwards addresses how a certain level of socio-political awareness drove decision of his examples to engage in the work they do, and the work itself does not necessarily represent a foundational invention at an epistemic level, but rather, a form of socio-epistemic innovation, i.e. when a medical doctor and specialist uses not only her medical knowledge, but her interest in performing arts, visual art, and public communication, to allow for social medicine to engage directly with the scientific aspect of the medicine (though probably not in the way that a rigid ideologue of a logico-deductive version of scientific method would recognise as engagement). However, I am curious if one can make foundational level engagement matter even to those who are not direct beneficiaries to such innovations, but who can derive less direct benefits. As a practising social-epistemologists, I daresay that there is a lot of room for that level of engagement in artscience or science-arti practices, although it depends as much on the person involved as on the work done.

One of the continuous theme throughout the book is that of idea translation, and the acknowledgement that the idea translation can come in many forms that could be far from straightforward, heuristic in nature, non-linear, and prone to failure (depending on one’s ability to find resonance with one’s target audience). Although most of the chapters of the book are focused on examples of individuals who function largely from the academy or from public institutions, Edwards also provides examples of how those in the industry, such as venture capitalist and consultants, engage across the spectrum of art and science in the services they offer. But as Edwards acknowledges the constraints that probably make the engagement they make. Therefore, however exceptional they may seem to the industry they are in, it is possible that their contributions might still be considered mundane when viewed from a global and broader perspective of potential that could emerge from artscience/science-art practices. It is my intent to see if there is a way for breaking out of this impasse, although it might mean having to start with less ambition and doing what is more coherent even as one moves towards increasingly risky ventures.

Another interesting argument Edwards makes in the book, and which I agree with completely, is the lack of going beyond the ideas-scheme when it comes to academy –  a system that does not reward that academic who tries to operationalise their work beyond the publication of their idea schemes that come from their working in isolation or collaboratively (the difficulties and false promises of collaboration is very well-addressed in the book); or to fulfill the expectation of grants they are expected to obtain to fulfill the expectation of their KPIs). Edwards mostly limit his examples to potential collaboration with industry (commercial) and certain artistic organisations – I would like to see how this could be done in collaboration with other forms of social-entrepreneurship. Many  NGOS start up but fail because they lack the spectrum of human resource that are capable of making maintaining the good idea seed through idealism with strong doses of savvy and pragmatism that only those with experiences that come from engaging with a variety of work/situations outside of strict boundaries could offer.  Many NGOS fail, or fall into stasis, because many lack precisely that ability to synergise and synthesise a diverse, and not even always ideologically homogeneous, workforce, while the problem of collaborative effort and sustainability are under-addressed. If one were to start up an NGO that is in the service of producing ideas and workable recommendations for society from a non-traditional angle, how could that look like?

Finally, given my own interest in conceptualising novelty, there are many examples of novelty in different forms and practices that serve as the roadmap for researchers and scholars such as myself attempting to understand what it would mean to design and implement a research program that is novel from a social-epistemological perspective. This brings me back to the earlier connection that I have made to transdisciplinarity, and how an artscientist/science-artist is truly a practitioner of transdisciplinary social-epistemology, although the outcome of that practice could range from one that is not coherent but still recognisable, to one that is coherently unrecognisable, or even that which is neither coherent nor recognisable stemming not from vagueness, but rather, from one’s inability to pin them to anything familiar to one’s experience.

In reading that book, I am reminded again of an ambition I had from fifteen years ago, fresh off college, of how I could find overlaps in the arts and sciences and find a fulfilling niche for myself, working at that intersection. I moved away from science, which was my original training, not because I got fed-up or bored with it (I found the curriculum boring and not engaging but that was the problem of the course structure, not with the subject matter itself), because I felt an absence I could not properly articulate then.  That search brought me into the humanities, and for a few years, I was happily immersed in the field, though I never forget my first love, which was science. By the time I came to the PhD, I knew I was not a fully converted humanist but rather, one who needs to exist in a composite world. I pushed that thought aside because I felt I needed to conform to get ahead, but the problem keeps cropping up and I realise I have difficulties identifying myself with any particular discipline, which makes applying for a tenure-track job (or even most postdocs), a challenge. While my colleagues and friends largely wrestle with what jobs are available within the interdiscipline of their discipline, or discipline of a seemingly interdisciplinary position, and apply accordingly, worrying only if they will get to the next level of consideration, my anxieties come in a completely different form, because academically speaking, I am equivalent to a homeless waif.

For a long time, I wrestled with the possibility that I might be too fickle to commit to any particular discipline or profession but now I realise that I am committed, but not to something that could be considered as regular at this time. Even before graduate school, I had thought of becoming an entrepreneur (perhaps a hybrid of social-intellectual entrepreneur) in order to preserve an independence I protect so jealously – much of my knowledge of entrepreneurship stems from the various jobs I have held to support my ‘academic habit’; family, friends and acquaintances who are entrepreneurs, and my own research into the different facets of the entrepreneurial position. While pragmatism and profitability are both important,  they are not the only main determinants to a successful business of any sort. Moreover, if I were to sell something, it has to be something that I would be interested in, as a consumer of that product, and that would be something crucial to the shaping of my professional agenda in 2017. The book reminds me that there are people out there wrestling with this difficulty at varying levels, and the point is as much in the journey as in the endgame.

Author Information: Lyudmila Markova, Russian Academy of Science, markova.lyudmila2013@yandex.ru

Markova, Lyudmila A. “A Reply to Fuller’s Prolegomena.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 7 (2016): 52-53.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-373

Please refer to:

brexit_leave

Image credit: (Mick Baker)rooster, via flickr

I agree with Steve Fuller that an event such as Brexit should be studied from the standpoint of philosophy and sociology. However, Fuller’s own social epistemology is quite suitable for this purpose. It seems strange that he does not use directly his own ideas for understanding current transformations in society. My own thinking comes in light of social epistemology presence in the mainstream of Russian philosophy in the last few decades. Of course, there are differences in my position and Fuller’s, but we share much in common.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Sandra Harding, University of California Los Angeles, sharding@gseis.ucla.edu

Harding, Sandra. “An Organic Logic of Research: A Response to Posey and Navarro.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 7 (2016): 22-25.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-35V

Please refer to:

harding_objectivity_diversity

Image credit: University of Chicago Press

The review by Kamila Posey and María G. Navarro of Objectivity and Diversity: Another Logic of Scientific Research is so generous to me and to this book. They clearly grasp arguments that have simply puzzled others (at best!). It is rare to get such a fine review of a book that, as they note, is challenging mainstream ways of thinking about the production of knowledge and ways of justifying it.

My only hesitation is that Posey and Navarro are too generous. A number of the positions that they attribute to me are ones that appeared first in writings of other authors.[1] And I am not just being gracious here. Some of these authors are advocating for the knowledge production needs of social justice movements around the globe—postcolonial, indigenous, and feminist. Others are critically revisiting the role that political interests played in the history of the Vienna Circle and subsequent emergence of logical positivism (logical empiricism).  Continue Reading…