restricted access Experimenting with the Concept of Experiment
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• 119 For a couple of years now a chorus of rather cacophonic voices has been heralding the fact that over the past few decades science has undergone a profound transformation. This has been answered by another chorus, more precise and concordant, that there has been no such transformation—at least no break or sharp discontinuity—and that the existing, commonly accepted vocabulary is sufficiently apt to describe recent developments in science and society . Beyond the parameters of this so far indissoluble antinomy, several voices have been attempting to overcome this dualistic formation. In this chapter we focus on one such position that offers a specific mode of analysis for identifying such a transformation, for “seeing” an epochal break. Our intention in using this term is not to question whether or not knowledge production as a whole has changed over the past few decades. Instead, we adopt the position that it is rather a question of finding the right vantage point—that is, “the proper distance to scientific practice”—of making a case rather than settling a fact (see Alfred Nordmann’s chapter in this volume). Such a vantage point enables us both to make visible and to appreciate the changes that might turn out to be important and illuminating in better understanding the forces and powers governing relationships between science, technology, and society. Experimenting with the Concept of Experiment Probing the Epochal Break ASTRID SCHWARZ and WOLFGANG KROHN 10 10 120 • astrid schwarz and wolfgang krohn Our focus is on observing changes in the practices of science-based experimentation in society. We suggest that there has been a major shift from the laboratory ideal to the field ideal of experimentation. The laboratory ideal involves designing manipulated, well-controlled, isolated experimental systems; the field ideal acknowledges their complexity, blurred boundaries, and unpredictable response to interventions. Field experiments could hardly be called an alternative ideal if they had not undergone a reevaluation in the philosophy of science and a reassessment with regard to their social relevance. We suggest that both changes can be observed especially well in the 1980s in the domain of the environmental sciences. Even if field experiments were not entirely new at that time, environmental concerns in science and society gave them a new cognitive status, institutional backing, and a specific rhetorical image. Today we are seeing the spread of new styles of experimentation to many areas of society. Experiments performed in open spaces might be, say, a social reform or a medical treatment, an ecological remediation or a technological innovation. A number of concepts are in circulation that seek to label these various experimental constellations, including real-life or realworld experiments, experimental installations or innovations, adaptive or experimental management, and prototyping. For the sake of conceptual clarity, we have decided to use “field experiment” as a generic term.1 The dynamic interaction between research activities and innovation strategies forms an important feature of what is widely known as the knowledge society. One of its outstanding features is the continuous shifting of knowledgeproduction into contexts of application and a concomitant increase in research in the applied sciences. This trend not only signals the growing relevance of applied knowledge in all domains of society; it also implies the extension of research practices to sites outside the institutional framework of science. Furthermore, if research—both basic and applied—comprises experimentation, then clearly experimental activities can be expected increasingly to pervade every field of innovation in society. In the process the institutional rationality of science that welcomes errors and failures as vehicles for augmenting and substantiating knowledge is transferred to society, at least to some degree. Society in turn confronts science with new responsibilities regarding the risks associated with research in the open spaces of societal change. Scholars of the philosophy of science have generally paid little attention to these changes. A brief glance at recent literature may help to position our argument. Martin Carrier proposes an “interactive view” of the relationship between science and technology. He argues: “For letting this potential of reciprocal stimulation unfold[, it is essential] to leave room or leisure for hooking experimenting with the concept of experiment • 121 up the practical goals with the theoretical framework” (Carrier 2007). This evokes a concept of research that comes close to the Baconian notion of the ideal mode of interaction between science and society: maintaining an awareness of epistemic challenges as they emerge alongside societal needs and ensuring that they are reflected in practical...