Tag Archives: Bruno Latour

Architecture, the practice of science, and meaning

The 1979 book, Laboratory Life: the Social Construction of Scientific Facts by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar immediately came to mind on reading about a new book (The New Architecture of Science: Learning from Graphene) linking architecture to the practice of science (research on graphene). It turns out that one of the authors studied with Latour. (For more about laboratory Life see: Bruno Latour’s Wikipedia entry; scroll down to Main Works)

A June 19, 2020 news item on Nanowerk announces the new book (Note: A link has been removed),

How does the architecture of scientific buildings matter for science? How does the design of specific spaces such as laboratories, gas rooms, transportation roots, atria, meeting spaces, clean rooms, utilities blocks and mechanical workshops affect how scientists think, conduct experiments, interact and collaborate? What does it mean to design a science lab today? What are the new challenges for the architects of science buildings? And what is the best method to study the constantly evolving architectures of science?

Over the past four decades, the design of lab buildings has drawn the attention of scholars from different disciplines. Yet, existing research tends to focus either purely on the technical side of lab design or on the human interface and communication aspects.

To grasp the specificity of the new generation of scientific buildings, however, a more refined gaze is needed: one that accounts simultaneously for the complex technical infrastructure and the variability of human experience that it facilitates.

Weaving together two tales of the NGI [National Graphene Institute] building in Manchester, lead scientist and one of the designers, Kostya [or Konstantin] Novoselov, and architectural anthropologist, Albena Yaneva, combine an analysis of its distinctive design features with ethnographic observation of the practices of scientists, facility managers, technicians, administrators and house service staff in The New Architecture of Science: Learning from Graphene.

A June 19 (?), 2020 World Scientific press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more insight into the book’s ambitions,

Drawing on a meticulous study of ‘the social life’ of the building, the book offers a fresh account of the mutual shaping of architecture and science at the intersection of scientific studies, cognitive anthropology and architectural theory. By bringing the voices of the scientist as a client and the architectural theorist into a dual narrative, The New Architecture of Science presents novel insights on the new generation of science buildings.

Glimpses into aspects of the ‘life’ of a scientific building and the complex sociotechnical and collective processes of design and dwelling, as well as into the practices of nanoscientists, will fascinate a larger audience of students across the fields of Architecture, Public Communication of Science, Science and Technology Studies, Physics, Material Science, Chemistry.

The volume is expected to appeal to academic faculty members looking for ways to teach architecture beyond authorship and seeking instead to develop a more comprehensive perspective of the built environment in its complexity of material and social meanings. The book can thus be used for undergraduate and post-graduate course syllabi on the theory of architecture, design and urban studies, science and technology studies, and science communication. It will be a valuable guidebook for innovative studio projects and an inspirational reading for live project courses.

The New Architecture of Science: Learning from Graphene retails for US$49 / £45 (hardcover). To order or know more about the book, visit http://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/11840.

The building and the architects

Here’s what it looks like,

©DanielShearing Jestico + Whiles

In addition to occasioning a book, the building has also garnered an engineering award for Jestico + Whiles according to a page dedicated to the UK’s National Institute of Graphene on theplan.it website. Whoever wrote this did an excellent job of reviewing the history of graphene and its relation to the University of Manchester and provides considerable insight into the thinking behind the design and construction of this building,

The RIBA [Royal Institute of British Architects] award-winning National Graphene Institute (NGI) is a world-leading research and incubator centre dedicated to the development of graphene. Located in Manchester, it is an essential component in the UK’s bid to remain at the forefront of the commercialisation of this pioneering and revolutionary material.

Jestico + Whiles was appointed lead architect of the new National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester in 2012, working closely with Sir Kostya Novoselov – who, along with Sir Andre Geim, first isolated graphene at the University of Manchester in 2004. The two were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. [emphases mine]

Located in the university campus’ science quarter, the institute is housed in a compact 7,600m2 five-storey building, with the main cleanroom located on the lower ground floor to achieve best vibration performance. The ceiling of the viewing corridor that wraps around the cleanroom is cleverly angled so that scientists in the basement are visible to the public from street level.

On the insistence of Professor Novoselov most of the laboratories, including the cleanrooms, have natural daylight and view, to ensure that the intense work schedules do not deprive researchers of awareness and enjoyment of external conditions. All offices are naturally ventilated with openable windows controlled by occupants. Offices and labs on all floors are intermixed to create flexible and autonomous working zones which are easily changed and adapted to suit emerging new directions of research and changing team structures, including invited industry collaborators.

The building also provides generous collaborative and breakout spaces for meetings, relaxation and social interaction, including a double height roof-lit atrium and a top-floor multifunction seminar room/café that opens onto a south facing roof terrace with a biodiverse garden. A special design feature that has been incorporated to promote and facilitate informal exchanges of ideas is the full-height ‘writable’ walls along the corridors – a black PVC cladding that functions like traditional blackboards but obviates the health and safety issue of chalk dust.

The appearance and imagery of this building was of high importance to the client, who recognised the significant impact a cutting-edge research facility for such a potentially world-changing material could bring to the university. Nobel laureate end users, heads of departments, the Estates Directorate, and different members of the design and project team all made contributions to deciding what this was. Speaking in an article in the New Yorker, fellow graphene researcher James Tour of Rice University, Texas said ‘What Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov did was to show the world the amazingness of graphene.’ Our design sought to convey this ‘amazingness’ through the imagery and materiality of the NGI.

The material chosen for the outer veil is a black Rimex stainless steel, which has the quality of mirror-like reflectivity, but infinitely varies in colour depending on light conditions and the angle of the view. The resulting image is that of a mysterious, ever-changing mirage that evokes the universal experience of scientific exploration. An exploration enveloped by a 2D, ultra-thin, black material that has a mercurial, undefinable character – a perfect visual reference for graphene.

This mystery is deepened by subtle delineation of the equations used in graphene research all over the façade through perforations in the panels. These are intentionally obscure and only apparent upon inspection. The equations include two hidden deliberate mistakes set by Professor Novoselov.

The perforations themselves are hexagonal in shape, representing the 2D atomic formation of graphene. They are laser cut based on a completely regular orthogonal grid, with only the variations in the size of each hole making the pattern of the letters and symbols of the equations. We believe this is a unique design in using parametric design tools to generate organic and random looking patterns out of a completely regular grid.

Who are Albena Yaneva and Sir Konstantin (Kostya) Sergeevich Novoselov?

Yaneva is the author who studied with Latour as you can see in this excerpt from her Univerisiy of Manchester faculty webpage,

After a PhD in Sociology and Anthropology from Ecole Nationale Supérieure des mines de Paris (2001) with Professor Bruno Latour, Yaneva has worked at Harvard University, the Max-Planck Institite for the History of Science in Berlin and the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna. Her research is intrinsically transdisciplinary and spans the boundaries of science studies, cognitive anthropology, architectural theory and political philosophy. Her work has been translated in German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Thai, Polish, Turkish and Japanese.  

Her book The Making of a Building: A Pragmatist Approach to Architecture (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009) provides a unique anthropological account of architecture in the making, whereas Made by the OMA: An Ethnography of Design (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2009) draws on an original approach of ethnography of design and was defined by the critics as “revolutionary in analyzing the day-to-day practice of designers.” For her innovative use of ethnography in the architectural discourses Yaneva was awarded the RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding University-located Research (2010).

Yaneva’s book Mapping Controversies in Architecture (Routledge, 2012) brought the newest developments in social sciences into architectural theory. It introduced Mapping Controversies as a research and teaching methodology for following design debates. A recent volume in collaboration with Alejandro Zaera-Polo What is Cosmopolitical Design? (Routledge, 2015) questioned the role of architectural design at the time of the Anthropocene and provided many examples of cosmopolitically correct design.  

Her monograph Five Ways to Make Architecture Political. An Introduction to the Politics of Design Practice (Bloomsbury, 2017) takes inspiration from object-oriented political thought and engages in an informed enquiry into the different ways architectural design can be political. The study contributes to a better understanding of the political outreach of the engagement of designers with their publics.  

Professor Yaneva’s monograph Crafting History: Archiving and the Quest for ArchitecturalLegacy (Cornell University Press, 2020) explores the daily practices of archiving in its mundane and practical course and is based on ethnographic observation of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) [emphasis mine] in Montreal, a leading archival institution, and interviews with a range of practitioners around the world, including Álvaro Siza and Peter Eisenman. Unravelling the multiple epistemic dimensions of archiving, the book tells a powerful story about how collections form the basis of Architectural History. 

I did not expect any Canadian content!

Oddly, I cannot find anything nearly as expansive for Novoselov on the University of Manchester website. There’s this rather concise faculty webpage and this more fulsome biography on the National Graphene Institute website. For the record, he’s a physicist.

For the most detail about his career in physics, I suggest the Konstantin Novoselov Wikipedia entry which includes this bit about his involvement in art,

Novoselov is known for his interest in art.[61] He practices in Chinese traditional drawing[62] and has been involved in several projects on modern art.[63] Thus, in February 2015 he combined forces with Cornelia Parker to create a display for the opening of the Whitworth Art Gallery. Cornelia Parker’s meteorite shower firework (pieces of meteorites loaded in firework) was launched by Novoselov breathing on graphene gas sensor (which changed the resistance of graphene due to doping by water vapour). Graphene was obtained through exfoliation of graphite which was extracted from a drawing of William Blake. Novoselov suggested that he also exfoliated graphite obtained from the drawings of other prominent artists: John Constable, Pablo Picasso, J. M. W. Turner, Thomas Girtin. He said that only microscopic amounts (flake size less than 100 micrometres) was extracted from each of the drawings.[63] In 2015 he participated in “in conversation” session with Douglas Gordon during Interdependence session at Manchester International Festival.[64]

I have published two posts about Novoselov’s participation in art/science projects, the first was on August 13, 2018 and titled: “See Nobel prize winner’s (Kostya Novoselov) collaborative art/science video project on August 17, 2018 (Manchester, UK)” and the second was in February 25, 2019 and titled: “Watch a Physics Nobel Laureate make art on February 26, 2019 at Mobile World Congress 19 in Barcelona, Spain.” (I may have to seriously consider more variety in my titles.)

I hope that one of these days I’ll get my hands on this book. In the meantime, I intend to spend more time perusing Bruno Latour’s website.

Situating Science and the future

The end is in sight (2014) for Canada’s Situating Science; Science in Human Contexts network or rather,  the organization’s funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) will be exhausted sometime soon. According to their Fall 2013 newsletter, they are making plans for the future,

I. SUSTAINING THE NETWORK AND ACTIVITIES BEYOND 2014
While this year is the last for the Situating Science SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster, it is an opportunity to celebrate and build upon our successes. As part of our plans, we will follow up on last year’s “think-tank” and management meetings to set out concrete plans for sustaining the network and activities of Cluster scholars beyond its 7 years. A number of Cluster partners and stakeholders will meet during a second “think-tank” to discuss best strategies for moving forward.

The “think-tank” will dovetail nicely with a special symposium in Ottawa on Science and Society Oct. 21-23. For this symposium, the Cluster is partnering with the Institute for Science, Society and Policy to bring together scholars from various disciplines, public servants and policy workers to discuss key issues at the intersection of science and society. [emphasis mine]  The discussions will be compiled in a document to be shared with stakeholders and the wider public.

The team will continue to seek support and partnerships for projects within the scope of its objectives. Among our top priorities are a partnership to explore sciences, technologies and their publics as well as new partnerships to build upon exchanges between scholars and institutions in India, Singapore and Canada.

There’s not much information about the Science & Society symposium (mentioned in the excerpt from the newsletter)  being held Oct. 21-23, 2013 in Ottawa other than this, from the About page (the text seems as if it was lifted out of a grant proposal),

Science and Society 2013 Symposium
Emerging Agendas for Citizens and the Sciences
From the evening of Mon. Oct. 21 through Wed. Oct. 23, 2013
University of Ottawa
scienceandsociety2013@gmail.com

What?

The Mission of the symposium is to create an open forum, in the Nation’s capital, to understand and address the key issues at the interface of science, technology, society and policy. The event will display the importance of connecting disparate themes and will bring together groups not usually in contact to discuss subjects of common interest and brainstorm solutions to common challenges. It will demonstrate that collaboration among academics, students, policy makers, stakeholders and the public at large can lead to new insights, new perspectives, and a deeper understanding of the social implications of science and technology.  It will also make the discussion of science more prominent in the national dialogue.

The symposium will be a major event in Ottawa during National Science and Technology Week. It is a collaboration between the Situating Science Strategic Knowledge Cluster and Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP).

Fostering dialogue between scholars, students, public servants and the general public will not only shed new light on the common challenges and opportunities facing these groups but will also point the way towards novel solutions and courses of action.

The uniqueness of the symposium consists in its aim to provide recommendations on how to envision and improve the science-society interface.  As part of their involvement in the event, all speakers and participants will be asked to address the following question:

How can we understand and improve the interplay between science and society, and improve science policies for the future?

On the basis of the debate and answers, a results document will be created in which the potentially diverging views of different groups will be analyzed and distributed among media and key decision makers.

Science and Society 2013 aims to connect different communities and uncover common goals, competing concerns and the possibility of joint strategies. It will involve and reach out to practitioners from various sectors, academics of diverse disciplines and an increasingly interested public.  At its broadest level it will explore the relationships between public policy, scientific research and the study of science itself – including but limited to how these inform one another.

The symposium will have an academic component during much of the day; and a public component designed for a truly broad audience and potentially involving additional collaborators.

How?

The proposed Session Themes include:
Science and Democracy; Value-Laden Science; International Lessons in Science Policy; Citizen Science; Technology and Media; Responsible Innovation and the Future of Technology; Art, Science and Technology; Open Science; Government Science; Education and the Culture of Science; and Innovation and Society.

The event will produce the following outcomes:

  • New media and political interest, in particular with respect to key issues (e.g. muzzling scientists, evidence-based decision making, the importance of public science);
  • A results document, published by the ISSP, summarizing key insights regarding science and society for distribution among media and key decision makers;
  • New thinking and debate among scholars, policymakers, scientists, students and the public;
  • New networks;
  • Dissemination of conference content in print and/or www formats and/or video/podcast/live streaming;
  • Student training and engagement.

Why?

Science and technology shape our world. They present great promise but they are also the source of much controversy and social anxiety. Like never before, there is a need for broad and informed discussion of science and technology and their place in our society.

Yet the communities that engage in, benefit from, and seek to understand science and technology are often disconnected.  Their shared interests are often misunderstood, and their common goals overlooked.  This disconnect not only impoverishes our grasp of science and technology and their social implications but can also have negative consequences for the public good, particularly at a time when Canadian science faces such profound challenges.

Who?

The partners and co-organizers of the event are the Situating Science SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster and the University of Ottawa Institute for Science, Society and Policy.

The Organizing Committee consists of:

  • Marc Saner, Director, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa
  • Jeremy Geelen, Project and Public Affairs Manager, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa
  • Dara Marcus, Student Event Organizer, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa
  • Gordon McOuat, Director, Situating Science Strategic Knowledge Cluster, University of King’s College
  • Emily Tector, Project Coordinator, Situating Science Strategic Knowledge Cluster, University of King’s College.

Each partner has a proven track record of organizing events on science and society.
Situating Science, through the various conferences, symposium and public events it has supported across Canada with its many partners from different disciplines and sectors, has explored the social and cultural significance of science and technology.  And the ISSP has held and supported several events in Ottawa dealing with cutting-edge technologies and their social and political implications.

Both partners have brought diverse groups together before.  Each has its own networks, resources and strengths that align with select themes and audiences of the symposium.  The successful combination of these capacities will make Science and Society 2013 a multi-sectorial, multi-disciplinary event that addresses issues of concern to all Canadians.

The following organizations are current supporters:

The organizers expect approximately 60 participants at the event during the day, with a much larger audience at the public sessions.

Getting back to the Situating Science Fall 2013 newsletter, there will be a number of workshops and events across the country this fall,

ATLANTIC:
Can We Sustain the Plant, and Democracy too?
Philip Kitcher, John Dewey Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University
Oct. 3, 2013 7pm
Ondaatje Hall, Marion McCain Building, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS

Isaac Newton’s General Scholium to the Principia: Science, Religion and Metaphysics Tercentenary Workshop
October 24-26, 2013
University of King’s College, Halifax, NS

MONTREAL:

Canadian Science and Technology Historical Association Conference
UQAM, Montreal, Qc.
November 1-3, 2013

Fall Lecture Series at UQAM
All held at 12:30pm in Local N-8150, Pavillon Paul-Gérin-Lajoie, UQAM, Montreal, Qc.

Schedule:
Expérience et expérimentalisme chez John Dewey
Joëlle Zask, maître de conférences en philosophie, Université de Provence
September 11, 2013

Une fuite de phosgène à l’usine Tolochimie en 1973. Réflexions sur ce que contenir veut dire en matière de pollution atmosphérique ?
Florian Charvolin, Centre Max Weber et Université Jean Monnet
September 13, 2013

In the Kingdom of Solovia: The Rise of Growth Economics at MIT, 1956-1970
Mauro Boianovsky, Département d’économie, Universidade de Brasília
et Kevin Hoover (conférencier), Département d’économie et de philosophie, Duke University.
Coorganisée avec le Département  de sciences économiques de l’UQAM
December 6, 2013

Thomas Jefferson, Count Buffon, and a Giant Moose: When Natural History and History Collide?
Lee Dugatkin, Department of Biology, University of Louisville.
Coorganisée avec la Faculté de sciences de l’UQAM
December 13, 2013

Fall Lecture Series at McGill
Full details to be posted shortly.

Highlights:
Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Director, Max-Plank Institute for the History of Science.
In partnership with the department of Social Studies of Medicine.

Steven Shapin, Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University.
In conjunction with McGill’s Mossman Lecture.

Liquid Intelligence and the Aesthetics of Fluidity Workshop
October 25-26, 2013
McCord Museum, McGill University, Montreal, Qc.

ONTARIO:

Reading Artifacts Summer Institute
August 19-23, 2013
Canadian Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa, Ont.

Science and Society Symposium
Oct. 21-23, 2013
University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ont.

Technoscience Salon on Critical Itineraries
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont.

Preliminary Schedule:
Celia Lowe, Anthropology, University of Washington
September 26, 2013

Kavita Philip, Women’s Studies, UC Irvine
November 8, 2013

Others confirmed:
Fa-Ti Fan, History, Binghamton University

Stacey Langwick, Anthropology, Cornell University

Alondra Nelson, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Columbia University

SASKATCHEWAN:

Connections and Communities in Health and Medicine Conference
Manitoba-Northwest Ontario-Minnesota-Saskatchewan (MOMS) & Society for the Social History of Medicine Postgraduate (SSHM) / Early Career History of Medicine (ECHM) Conference
September 12-14, 2013
University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada

ALBERTA:
More than Natural Selection: A Lecture Series on Alfred Russell Wallace
October 2-30, 2013 Wednesdays at 3:30pm
Tory Building 2-58, University of Alberta

Kathleen Lowrey, Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta
October 2, 2013

Robert Smith, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta
October 9, 2013

Andrew Berry, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
October 16, 2013

Martin Fichman, Department of Humanities, York University
October 23, 2013

Christine Ferguson, School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow
October 30, 2013

UBC [University of British Columbia]:
Details will become available online shortly.

IN THE WORKS:
Keep abreast of all the latest developments of events and activities online via our website and social media.

Planning for a national lecture series for late winter/early spring is underway. The focus of this series will be on the timely issue of science and evidence. The Cluster is also in the process of planning a special Cluster Summer Institute for next summer.

I have some news about the University of British Columbia and a Science and Technology Studies event for Fall 2013. Bruno Latour will be in Vancouver giving both lectures and seminars. There’s a lecture for which there are absolutely no tickets (but there will be a standby line)  on Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, from the Peter Wall Downtown Lecture Series event page (Note: Since this is an ‘event’ page, once the Bruno Latour lecture has been delivered, they will likely list the next lecture in their series on the page),

War and Peace in an Age of Ecological Conflict

The Vogue Theatre — Monday, September 23, 2013, at 7:30 pm

Tickets are now sold out. A standby line will be available the night of the event.

Dr. Bruno Latour is professor at Sciences Po Paris. Trained in philosophy, he has been instrumental in the development of an anthropology of science and technology. This field has had a direct impact on the philosophy of ecology and on an alternative definition of modernity. He has taught for many years in North American universities. Most of his books have been published with Harvard University Press. The most recently published is An Inquiry into Modes of Existence ‐ An Anthropology of the Moderns. All references and most articles may be found on www.bruno‐latour.fr. Bruno Latour gave the six Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion for 2013, under the title Facing Gaia, Six Lectures on the Political Theology of Nature, and was awarded the prestigious Holberg Prize for 2013 http://www.holbergprisen.no/en.

While politics has always been linked to geography, the Earth itself has largely been seen as playing a backstage role, the mere window-dressing for human intention and interest. With the advent of the epoch known as the ‘Anthropocene’, the Earth is no longer in the background, but very much in the foreground, in constant rivalry with human intentionality. In the meantime, human action has taken on a dimension that matches that of nature itself, and consequently the definition of geo‐politics has been transformed. Appeals to nature, therefore, do not seem to have the same pacifying and unifying effect that they did in earlier ecological movements. By drawing on anthropological and philosophical literature, this lecture will discuss this new geopolitical framework and show how the extension of politics into nature must modify our views on war and peace in the future.

About the Venue

Designed as a dual-purpose theatre to showcase both live performances and movies, the Vogue has been a preferred venue for performers, filmmakers, and audiences alike since 1941 and is prominent landmark of Vancouver’s theatre district.

The Vogue Theatre is located at:
918 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1L2

Parking
The closest pay parking available is behind the theatre on the 900 block of Seymour St.

Accessibility
Wheelchair spaces are located to the right of the center aisle, on the orchestra level (row 19).

Other opportunities to see Bruno Latour in Vancouver include, from a July 10, 2013 posting on the UBC Geographer blog,

Sept 25 [2013]: STS seminar

BRUNO LATOUR, Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris
An Inquiry into Modes of Existence
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Location: TBA 10am-12pm
DAY’S SCHEDULE IN DETAIL
10-12pm Discussion with Bruno about An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (Harvard UP, 2013)
5:30pm Debate with Philippe Descola at MOA [Museum of Anthropology]
“Approaches to the Anthropocene”
Contact neil.safier@ubc.ca  if you have any questions about Bruno Latour’s visit to UBC

I offer one hint about contacting Neil Safier, he was not responsive when I sent a query earlier this summer (2013) about another public workshop  (Simon Schaffer of Leviathan and the Air Pump fame) so, you may need to send more than one query to get a response.

Returning one more time to Situating Science, for those who want to see the whole Fall 2013 newsletter, here’s the PDF.

Cosmopolitics and Isabelle Stengers on March 5, 2012

Lucky us tfor living in an age where we can ‘attend’ a live keynote talk by Isabelle Stengers, a renowned philosopher and trained chemist, taking place thousands of miles away (for most of us) in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Here’s the notice about the talk from the Situating Science Cluster announcement,

COSMOPOLITICS: LEARNING TO THINK WITH SCIENCES, PEOPLES AND NATURES

Keynote presentation of the “To See Where It Takes Us” conversation series …
MONDAY MARCH 5, 2012
7:30PM AST (6:30PM EST)
SCOTIABANK THEATRE, SOBEY BUILDING, SAINT MARY’S UNIVERSITY
903 ROBIE ST. HALIFAX, NS


Professor Stengers’ keynote address will examine sciences and the consequences of what has been called progress. Is it possible to reclaim modern practices, to have them actively taking into account what they felt entitled to ignore in the name of progress? Or else, can they learn to “think with” instead of define and judge?

Trained as a chemist, Professor Stengers received the grand prize for philosophy from the Académie Française and has collaborated and published with, among others, Nobel Prize winning chemist Ilya Prigogine and renowned sociologist of science Bruno Latour. Her books include: Order out of Chaos (with I. Prigogine), A History of Chemistry (with B. Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent), Power and Invention, The Invention of Modern Science, Cosmopolitics I & II, Capitalist Sorcery (with Philipple Pignarre), and Thinking with Whitehead.

For those of us on the west coast of North America, the talk will be taking place at 3:30 pm PST (11:30 pm GMT) and we can watch the event in real time here: http://www.livestream.com/SITUSCI on Monday, March 5, 2012.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in Halifax next week (March 5 – 9, 2012), Stengers will be involved in a series of ‘conversations’. From the Situating Science Stengers events page here’s a little more about Stengers and the event titled, To See Where It Takes Us,

Professor of Philosophy of Science at the Université libre de Bruxelles, Dr. Stengers has for some 30 years offered one of the most thorough and tenacious reconsiderations of the history and practice of sciences. For Stengers, the sciences and their objects (or their natures), and our human involvements with these are situated in a continuously fluid relationship or “ecology”. Sciences, natures and peoples, therefore, should be seen as engaged in “conversations with” one another rather than as wholly separated. Hence the allusion to “cosmopolitics” in Stengers’ work.

These conversations raise crucial questions about the status of our obligations with knowledges of “the world” as we variously know it and participate in it.  The week of colloquia is set up, therefore, as a series of conversations, “to see where it takes us”.

The schedule and locations for the conversations are on the Stengers events page.

Ideas becoming knowledge: interview with Dr. Rainer Becker (part 1 of 2)

ETA Mar. 11, 2013: I was notified by Rainer Becker that his participation was cancelled and the organizers took the project in another direction. Consequently, much of what follows is no longer relevant. However, the discussion about knowledge and ideas and Becker’s theorists may be of some interest.

I’m very pleased to publish this interview (part 1 today) with Dr. Rainer Becker on a topic (how an idea becomes knowledge in the field of science) that has long interested me. First, some information about the research project and Dr. Becker from the April 22, 2010 news item on Nanowerk,

How do sensational ideas become commonly accepted knowledge? How does a hypothesis turn into certainty? What are the ways and words that bring results of scientific experiments into textbooks and people’s minds, how are they “transferred” into these domains? Science philosopher Dr. Rainer Becker has recently started dealing with such questions. Over the next three years, Becker will accompany the work of Professor Dr. Frank Rösl’s department at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ), which studies cancer-causing viruses. He is one of three scientists in an interdisciplinary joint project which is funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with a total sum of approximately € 790,000.

Becker’s mission in Heidelberg is part of a research project entitled “Transfer knowledge – knowledge transfer. About the past and present of the transfer between life sciences and humanities.” The project is carried out by DKFZ jointly with the Center for Literary and Cultural Studies (Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, ZfL) in Berlin. Project leaders are Professor Dr. Frank Rösl of DKFZ and Dr. Falko Schmieder of ZfL. It comprises three individual projects in which forms of knowledge transfer related to three different constellations of science history are studied in a cultural-scientific approach.

Dr. Becker’s project,

The third and final project, which is pursued by Rainer Becker at DKFZ, deals with the question of the relevance of current knowledge concepts such as the one that understands and experimentally studies cancer as a consequence of viral infections.

“I am pleased that we will explore the relevance of tumor virology across disciplinary borders and I hope we will gain fundamental insights into how scientific discourses develop and how they are ultimately accepted in scientific thought collectives,” said departmental head Frank Rösl about the relevance of the current project.

This is not Dr. Becker’s first such project, his doctoral thesis touched on some of the same themes of how scientific discourse develops,

Rainer Becker wrote his doctoral thesis while he was employed at the Institute of Philosophy of Darmstadt Technical University. There he made parallel studies of the social history of the computer and the “universal science” of cybernetics. Back then he already chose a topic that transcends borders between humanities and natural sciences. “While I was working on my doctoral thesis, I explored the question of ‘transfers’ – namely between technology, natural sciences and philosophy in the 1940s: The development of computers and cybernetics would not have been possible without prior conceptual and metaphorical ‘transfers’ between life sciences and technical sciences.”

In his future project, the philosopher will study in real time, so to speak, how natural science data are being obtained, processed and communicated. As a “researcher of science”, he will observe the laboratory work from the perspective of the humanities and cultural science, he will do research in archives and will interview scientists. It is for good reason that the project is located at DKFZ, because this is the place where findings from basic biological research become relevant for medicine and the public. Thus, the Nobel Prize-winning discovery by DKFZ’s former Scientific Director, Professor Harald zur Hausen, that particular viruses cause cervical cancer has led to a vaccine against this type of cancer.

Now for the interview:

1. First, congratulations on receiving funding for such a fascinating line of query. When does the project start and what is the period of time during which it will run?

A: Indeed, the funding delighted all of us. My sub-project in Heidelberg started in late October 2009, it will be supported for 3 years.

2. Will you be working alone or will you be working with an interdisciplinary team?

A: Currently I am doing my study in Heidelberg on my own, getting assisted locally by one of the project leaders, a biologist highly interested in interdisciplinary work: Prof. Frank Roesl, head of the department where I am doing my research. The other project leader, Dr. Falko Schmieder and two other science philosophers support me in Berlin, at the Center for Literary and Cultural Research (ZfL). Like me, both of them work on their own sub-projects while getting support by Dr. Schmieder: he does ensure the convergence of the sub-projects. We discuss the topics during our regular meetings – but also via email, skype, wikis for sharing documents etc.

Because the main focus of the project is historical, both of the other sub-projects work –like me in the past – in a more historical way: they try to elucidate the current situation in the Heidelberg lab of 2010 – molecular biological work on supposedly tumourgenic viruses – by working in archives, on in part comparable fields, but different time scales: (a) Dr. Birgit Griesecke – mainly doing studies on Ludwig Fleck – is working on the 1930s, (b) PD Dr. Peter Berz – researching contexts esp. around Jacques Monod – is working on the 1970s. Both help me to understand the current scientific situation in the corresponding historical context.

We also try to get additional funding options for one or two other researchers (e.g. sociologists, communication scientists) supporting our work in a interdisciplinary way.

3. Are there any theorists that have influenced how you are approaching this project?

A: The whole project is closely related to the work of the Polish bacteriologist and sociologist of science Ludwig Fleck. Its main theoretical references point to him – by as well trying to ‘refresh’ his approaches in ways more adequate to the current scientific situation: not only everything that happened after the ‘linguistic turn’ and all the concerns on ‘media’, but also dealing with questions on the significance of ‘things’ in the labs around 2010. This confrontation of Fleck with the present research raises several questions, for example:

Do apparatuses reflect or even materialize special sorts of scientific ‘thought-styles’?

Do specific ‘thought-collectives’ gather or even get constituted around special lab equipments to what extent do they form prior styles of thinking – what kind of ‘migration-background’ has each ‘thing’ with what implications and what styles of local adoption?

What exactly is the correlation between assemblages of things, humans, animals, discourses and what Mary Douglas coined ‘worlds of thought’ – and their inhabitants / participants?

What is their contribution to the specific local – and the same time globally connected – scientific way of worldmaking (in the field of cancer research)?

What political implications potentially are embedded in all that fields – from specific ways of problematisation to its effects?

My own theoretical background was mainly influenced by the philosophical tradition of structuralism and so called ‘post-structuralism’, especially Michel Foucault – so phenomenological traditions also interest me. Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, J.-F. Lyotard, M. Serres and M. de Certeau framed my more traditional approaches to political philosophy on the one hand (from Plato, Hobbes, Kant, Nietzsche, Weber, Arendt to the early/middle Frankfurt School, French Postmodernist to current debates on ‘radical democratic’-thinkers as well as philosophical experiments like tiqqun) but on the same time on the other hand to different fields of knowledge, esp. concerning the relation technology – art – bios (I wrote my dissertation on a ‘coevolutionary’ history of the ‚universal machine’/ computers and ‘first’ cybernetics in connection to what Foucault termed ‘biopower’ – coming from Canguilhem and handing this concept over to E. Fox-Keller, I. Hacking, D. Haraway and L. Kay).

In my field, a biological laboratory dealing with viruses and cancer, Michel Serres’ thoughts on different phenomena of ‘inbetween’/’3rds’ as well as Foucault’s spatial approaches in their connection to knowledge/power (heterotopia, taxonomy/order, diagrams like ‘panoptism’) currently form reflections of my experiences more and more – as well as my contention with prominent ‘first wave’ researchers in the field of science/laboratory studies, e.g. B. Latour (esp. the ‘early’), K. Knorr-Cetina, H.J. Rheinberger (esp. beyond his Heidegger-References), P. Rabinow (both theoretical and practical work) and D. Haraway (esp. ‘when species meet’), flanked by what could be coined a wide field of ethnology in the broadest sense (C. Lèvi-Strauss, M. Douglas, C. Geertz, E. Goffman): ethnology of the own, western culture interested me since my first contacts with poststructuralism/Nietzsche. In that range, scientific and everyday practices and their relation to ‘strangeness’ of the field (for the lab-practitioners, for me) more and more comes to focus (think of the concept of ‘problematisation’) – and also theorist of  ‘practice’ keep framing my attention (A. Pickering, K. Sunder-Rajan, M. de Certeau). I hope the projects (my colleagues and mine) will contribute something at least in that latter field.

4. The description in the press release for how you plan to go about your project reminded me of Bruno Latour’s Laboratory Life where he described the creation of a ‘scientific fact’. Obviously you won’t be repeating that work, so I’m wondering if you could describe your process and goals in more detail.

see (3)

Tomorrow: more details about the project and how the research will be disseminated.

Quantum realities and perceptions (part 1)

(This is going to be a ‘philosophical’ entry.) The more I read about nanotechnology and look into the science, the more I wonder about the nature of reality. Serendipitously, the Dalai Lama was in Vancouver (Canada) recently which occasioned an article (by Peter McKnight of the Vancouver Sun, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, p. C5) titled Exploring the nature of reality; Buddhism and  science are not always in agreement, but they still have much in common.  (The Dalai Lama is quite interested in science and he supported a series of dialogues between scientists and Buddhists which started in 1987.(

From the Buddhist perspective, reality is an illusion so there cannot be indivisible particles such as electrons and quarks which, according to scientists, are the basic building blocks for matter.  Consequently, you cannot use measurements (of charge, mass, and spin angular momentum) to prove their existence as the measurements themselves are illusory. From the article,

The Dalai Lama put it this  way: “things and their properties are mutually dependent … one can speak of an entity only in relation to attributes, and one can speak of attributes only in relation to an entity. Once you have conceptually removed all the attributes, it is nonsensical to speak of what remains.”

These Buddhist concepts are in sharp contrast to what many scientists believe, i.e. there are indivisible objects and matter is real.

Getting back to Buddhism, it reminds me a little of Bruno Latour’s work, Laboratory Life; The Construction of Scientific Facts, where he points out that the practice of science is very much informed by perception, social relations, and belief.

As as I’m concerned, it’s always been a’ best guess’ scenario and one proceeds with a theory as long as it works. I found out that I am not alone; there is a philosophy for thinkers like me, ‘instrumentalism’. From the article,

… [scientific] theories are seen as ways of explaining, predicting and controlling phenomena, and concepts like electrons are viewed as constructs that help us to make predictions and control nature. Instrumentalism therefore doesn’t deny reality. If it did, there would be no chance of making accurate predictions because there would be nothing to predict and nothing to control. Rather, instrumentalism merely says that our scientific theories don’t get to the ultimate truth about reality. But they work, and that’s what’s important.

(If you want to read more from the article, go here.) As noted earlier, I’ve been playing with these ideas as I’ve been exploring nanotechnology and the quantum world. In reading about nanotech and quantum realities, it’s always a leap of the imagination. The descriptions of what occurs at the atomic and molecular levels contradicts the sensory input I receive. Take this for example from an article by Michael Berger (Shaking hands with a virus — getting all touchy-feely with nanotechnology) on Nanowerk,

So while your ‘reality’ tells you that you are sitting in your chair right now as you are reading this, reality at the subatomic level means that you are not really sitting in your chair – thanks to the repulsion of your and the chair’s electrons you are actually floating on it at a height of a fraction of a nanometer.

This a complete contradiction of what I perceive and yet scientists say it’s so and on the basis of their work have made all kinds of quantum discoveries which have been applied to real world products.

In common with quantum particles, my objects too can be measured (they have weight, dimension, hardness, state [gas/liquid/solid], etc.) My perceptions and my measurements are the only proof I have of reality and yet according to scientists there is another reality at the nano scale and their means of proving that ‘nano’ reality is similar to mine.This all leads to the question I started with, what is the nature of reality? (more next week)

On a somewhat related note, I’ve got a lovely short story from Bruno Breathnach, A simple glass of water, which has a very Buddhist flavour.

Happy weekend!