Stengers’ Power and Invention

Isabelle Stengers

Power and Invention: Situating Science

Area: Digital Media

Foreword ( by Bruno Latour)

·                    “Stengers looks for a touchstone distinguishing good science from bad not in epistemology, but in ontology.”

·                    The modern tradition in anthropology and science studies is to study “up” not “down”

·                    Modify our definition of science: not to look at the limits of human representation but the world’s ways of marking these limits

·                    What is a science? (Contra our class discussions on what is a rhetoric of science)

·                    CC: “cosmopolitically” correct

·                    The world is not outside, the mind is not inside

·                    Distinction: not between true and false statements, but between well-constructed and badly-constructed propositions

·                                Proposition: (opposite a statement) includes the world in a certain state                          and could be called an event (Deleuze)

·                                A  construction is not a representation form the mind or dorm the society                                   about a thing, an object, a matter of fact, but the engagement of a certain                                    type of collective

Xi: “First, a world outside untouched by human hands and impervious to human history; second, a mind isolated inside its own mind striving to gain an access to an absolute certainly about the laws of the world outside; third, a political world down there, clearly distinct from the world outside and the mind inside, which is agitated by fads and passions, flares of violence and eruptions of desires, collective phenomena that can be quieted down only by bringing in the universal laws of science, in the same way that a fire can be extinguished only by water, foam, and sand thrown form above; and fourth, a sort of position ‘up there’ that serves as a warrant for the clear separation of the three spheres above, a view from  nowhere that is occupied either by the God on ancient religions or in recent times by a more reliable an watchful figure, that of the physicist-God who took upon himself—it is definitely a he!—to make sure that there are always enough laws of physics to stop humans from behaving irrationally.”

Xiii: “The mind is not an isolated language-bearer place in the impossible double bind of having to find absolute truth while it has been cut off from all the connections that would have allowed it to be relatively sure—and not absolutely certain—of its many relations.  It is a body, an ethological body, or to use Deleuze’s expression, a ‘habit of thought.’”

Xiv: “Constructivism, for Stengers, is not a word that would have an antonym.  It is not, for instance, the opposite of realism.  Thus, constructivism is the opposite of a pair of positions: the twin ones obtained after the bifurcation, as Whitehead says, between world and word.  In this way, ‘social construction’ is not a branch of constructivism, but the denegation of any construction, a denegation as thorough as that of realist philosophers.”

Xv: “The same principle strikes twice with the opposite result: once should not eliminate from a discipline what constitutes its main source of uncertainties and risk, reversible time in the case of nonhuman phenomena, susceptibility to influence in the case of human phenomena.”

Chapter Nine: Who is the Author?

·                  “Any definition, we will say, is a fiction, tied to an author”

·                  Who is the author of the fiction concerning the movement of bodies that Galileo opposes to Aristotelian science?

·                  The “author” would then be an abstraction

·                  Authors, in the medieval sense, are those whose texts can act as an authority

·                              Scientists recognize nature as the only authority

·                  When an experimental fact is accepted, in the very process of its acceptance, a new question, a new history begins

155:  “An absurdity is not a contradiction.  Absurdity relates to the idea of rationality that would establish, in one way or another, a common meeting ground for human reason and the reasons nature obeys, in such a way that rational argumentation is able to claim the power of distinguishing between the possible and the impossible, the acceptable and the unacceptable, the thinkable and the unthinkable.”

160:  “Thus one can see in the modern sciences that the invention of an original practice of attributing the title of author, playing on two meanings that it opposes; the author, as an individual animated by intentions, projects, and ambitions, and the author acting as authority.”

160: “Every scientist knows that both he and his colleagues are ‘authors’ in the first sense of the term and that this does not matter.  What does matter is that his colleagues be constrained to recognize that they cannot turn this title of author into an argument against hum, that they cannot localize the flaw that would allow them to affirm that the one who ‘claims to have made nature speak’ has in fact spoken in its place.”

160-1:  “The question is to know if this title of author can be ‘forgotten,’ if the statement can be detached form the one who held it and be taken up by others from the moment that they welcome into their laboratory the experimental apparatus whose meaning is given by this detached statement.”



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