Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge

Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge

Language: English

Pages: 352


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

How does science create knowledge? Epistemic cultures, shaped by affinity, necessity, and historical coincidence, determine how we know what we know. In this book, Karin Knorr Cetina compares two of the most important and intriguing epistemic cultures of our day, those in high energy physics and molecular biology. Her work highlights the diversity of these cultures of knowing and, in its depiction of their differences--in the meaning of the empirical, the enactment of object relations, and the fashioning of social relations--challenges the accepted view of a unified science.

By many accounts, contemporary Western societies are becoming "knowledge societies"--which run on expert processes and expert systems epitomized by science and structured into all areas of social life. By looking at epistemic cultures in two sample cases, this book addresses pressing questions about how such expert systems and processes work, what principles inform their cognitive and procedural orientations, and whether their organization, structures, and operations can be extended to other forms of social order.

The first ethnographic study to systematically compare two different scientific laboratory cultures, this book sharpens our focus on epistemic cultures as the basis of the knowledge society.

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technology in the future. At present, however, such packages-whether industry-provided, self-made, or obtained through the exchange network connecting different labs-simply become components of manual work. Along with the data banks available today, they free researchers from routine tasks and allow them to spend their 84 EPISTEMIC CULTURES time exploring "more interesting" goals and ever newer techniques. The benchwork style of molecular biology is apparent even in studies that have focused

from this need to "witness," the body is a silent instrument. The measurement theory of the body provides for no systematic description of sensory and bodily behaviors, no written instructions as to the appropriate bodily reactions in speci~c experimental situations, and no behavioral rules to be followed (beyond the general instruction to do things oneself). The scientist's body as an informationprocessing tool is a black-boxed instrument. The absence of discourse concerning embodied behavior

are the physicists? The traditional answer might be "subjective centers of action." Are not the physicists the ones who do the classifying? Who produce, to a substantive degree, the detector-which they rightly, on occasion, consider their "toy"? Surely, they 127 From Machines to Organisms are the ones who fight the background and perform all the other complicated tasks that make up an experiment? And surely they consider themselves, reflexively, as the personal centers of action that perform

showed how a technological detector displays itself, in experimental settings, more as a physiological organism than as a machine, this chapter will show how living organisms become, in molecular biology laboratories, similar to (industrial) production systems and production sites-they become molecular machines. 6.1 A Science of Life without Nature? Molecular biology dates back to the 1940s (Judson 1992), but its prehistory can be traced to a much earlier time. From Foucault's perspective (1973:

the genes is necessary, because they represent only a portion of the genome of a typical mammal, and the fragments to be cloned are randomly cut from the DNA molecule. Cloning is made possible by inserting fragments of DNA from any source into plasmids and phages (bacterial viruses). To construct the hybrid plasmid, its DNA is cleaved or "cut" at appropriate sites by a restriction enzyme, and the two ends of the break are joined to the ends of a fragment from foreign DNA. The result is a

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