restricted access The Age of Technoscience
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• 19 Mode-2 research, postacademic science, technoscience, postnormal science, new natural history, entrepreneurial science—all these various labels speak of more or less profound changes in the organization of research. Do these changes amount to an epochal break that transforms scientific knowledge production as a whole? The theories behind each of these designations do not offer straightforward answers to this question. If a new kind of commissioned research enters the scene in the late twentieth century, this might leave most of the sciences unaffected. And if today’s research practices defy notions of “pure research” or “basic science,” and if they thereby open our eyes to the rich interactions between science, technology, and society, this might lead us to see these rich interactions also in the past. All that has changed, some would argue, is how we appreciate scientific practice, but the business of science is as complex as it has always been. Instead of reviewing various accounts of past and current research practice, I want to make a case for an epochal break between the scientific enterprise and the regime of technoscience. However, to make a case is different from settling a matter of fact. Rather than decide whether or not scientific knowledge production has changed as a whole, I want to show in what sense it is adequate, illumiThe Age of Technoscience ALFRED NORDMANN 2 2 20 • alfred nordmann nating, even important to consider the various diagnosed changes in terms of an epochal break. Doing so is not a neutral exercise but motivated by concern for the scientific enterprise. From the point of view of science and how it understands itself, hardly anything could be as dramatic as the shift to a technoscienti fic mode of research. From the point of technoscience, in contrast, the whole history of science and engineering research has always been technoscientific. In a final, apparently dialectical twist to my argument, I therefore argue that those who deny the epochal break have happily settled into the age of technoscience , while those who see an era coming to an end are those who care about science and its deep connection to modernity and the Enlightenment project. I. What is an epochal break? Surely, it is not a moment in time when, suddenly, everything changes and the world is becoming a different place. Some have argued that World War I or the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima were such moments. Others cast doubt on such ruptures but see them as salient moments that grew out of the past and beyond which much continued as it was. This is true also for the epochal break that matters most and that shaped our very idea of an epochal break—namely, the transition from a medieval or premodern world to the modern world. As Hans Blumenberg (1976), in particular, has pointed out, there would be no modern world without the assumption of an epochal break—to be modern is to distinguish oneself from those who came before, to respond to the seriousness of one’s age, to relate oneself to the demands of the day. And yet the history of modernity is full of uncertainty and controversy about the precise time and place, the extent and significance of the transition from medieval to modern times. Still, to be modern is to frame one’s own place in the world historically, part of a movement from one era to the next, each with its own character and destiny. Even as the moderns remained profoundly unsure how they could and should distinguish themselves, they liberally proclaimed epochal breaks, most prominently in the philosophy of Hegel or in the case of Goethe, who declared the beginning of a new era after witnessing an all-but-forgotten battle in one of the countless wars between the Germans and the French.1 The notion of “epoch” or “era” became an instrument of the moderns to reflect upon themselves, their place in history, the distinctiveness of their times, and thus of their calling. In recent years, one of the preeminent philosophers of technoscience, Bruno Latour (1993), has argued that we have never been modern. His claim does not contradict Blumenberg’s but complements it: modernity presupposes that one can distinguish the modern self from that of the dark ages, that one the age of technoscience • 21 can distinguish culture from nature, science from technology, this era from another. Since we have never quite succeeded...