Monday, July 8, 2013

Science is Politics, Politics is Science

In "Local Knowledge, Environmental Politics, and the Founding of
Ecology in the United States:Stephen Forbes and "The Lake as a
Microcosm (1887)" David W. Schneider argues that the founders of the
science of Ecology learned substantially from the local knowledge of
fishermen during their research activities and eventually began
adopting their political concerns.

Certainly too little attention has been paid to the role that informal
or "local" knowledge has played in the development of most scientific
disciplines. Nothing develops in a vacuum. This article will
certainly be a useful citation in my study. It may be the case that
scientists in the projects I am studying followed a similar evolution.
And if they didn't it would be interesting to find out why.

The article itself, however, while exploring how Forbes grappled with
scientific and political boundaries, curiously doesn't attempt to
critically examine the usefulness of maintaining the epistemological
boundaries that labels such as "scientific," "political," and "local"
imply. Though the material he presents provides a great opportunity
to interrogate the supposed dichotomy of "scholarly science" and
"practical politics," Schneider refrains. Instead he makes the much
less radical claim that Forbes simply used scientific objectivity as a
tool for political ends. I'd argue, with Latour, that knowledge never
has an intrinsic character, so the idea of using scientific knowledge
for political ends can't arise. Rather from its very beginning all
knowledge is created for social goals and through social processes
(this is the core message of his classic "Science in Action") and so
whatever character it may later be ascribed with is itself a product
of politics and culture ("translation?"). So the story instead is one
in which Forbes established the field of Ecology by successfully
translating knowledge that had formerly been labeled "local" into
"scientific" and then adding to it and that this entire process of
knowledge translation and creation was a cultural and social one, both
personally for Forbes as seen in the changing character of his
correspondences about local fisherman, and more broadly as seen in the
disputes between fishermen and "big business."


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