Notes & quotes from David Turnbull's Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers

Turnbull, D. (2000). Masons, tricksters, and cartographers : comparative studies in the sociology of scientific and indigenous knowledge (Kindle ed.). Australia: Harwood Academic.

15th Dec 13

Rouse, in considering the contemporary production process of scientific knowledge, has summarised the implications of this understanding of science.

Science is first and foremost knowing one’s way about in the laboratory (or clinic, field site, etc.). Such knowledge is of course transferable outside the laboratory site into a variety of other situations. But the transfer is not to be understood in terms of the instantiation of universally applied knowledge claims in different particular settings by applying bridge principles and plugging in particular local values for theoretical variables. It must be understood in terms of the adaptation of one local knowledge to create another. We go from one local knowledge to another rather than from universal theories to their particular instantiations1.

The way a scientist learns to solve problems is not by applying theory deductively but, in Kuhnian fashion, by learning to apply theory through recognising situations as similar. Hence theories are models or tools whose application results from situations being conceived as, or actually being made, equivalent. This point is implicit in the recognition that knowledge produced in a laboratory does not simply reflect nature because nature as such is seldom available in a form that can be considered directly in the lab. Specially simplified and purified artefacts are the typical subject of instrumental analysis in scientific laboratories. For the results of such an artificial process to have any efficacy in the world beyond the lab, the world itself has to be modified to conform with the rigours of science. (p. 44)

There are echoes here of Latour's account of Pasteur's work2 in which he argues that Pasteur effectively moved his laboratory to the farms of France.

The notion of ideality hovers here as well. The notion of an ideal gas, i.e. one which behaves without the properties of real gases and is amenable to easier calculation and analysis. Real gases are then treated in terms of their deviation from ideality. There are connections here with the notion of social physics, which has gained an injection of interest with the growth of so-called big data3.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License