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  • Future Matters:Technoscience, Global Politics, and Cultural Criticism
  • Patricia Ticineto Clough (bio)

In the introduction to what became an infamous set of essays published in Social Text in 1996, Andrew Ross pointed to the connection conservative critics were drawing between what had been called the "culture wars" and what was then being called the "science wars." While Ross noted with some disdain that the critics were filling op-ed pages with warnings about the demise of science at the hands of "pinkos, feminists and multiculturalists of all stripes,"1 his introductory remarks nevertheless made it clear that the cultural studies of science were informed by a demand for diversity, a demand that the various perspectives of the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized be recognized in the production of scientific knowledge. His remarks also made it clear that the demand for diversity was being articulated, in the cultural studies of science, both through a deconstruction of the seemingly inherent connection of rationality, truth, and value-free methodologies presumed in the Western discourse of science and through a rethinking of capital investment in technoscientific development.

But it was not only the conservative critics who strongly dissented from supporting this assemblage of concerns motivating the cultural studies of science. Even among the Left, there was heated debate. Indeed, the infamy that would attach itself to that 1996 collection came with the controversy over Alan Sokal's contribution, in which Sokal drew support from the field of physics for Derridean deconstruction, feminist theory, Marxist cultural studies, and the cultural studies of science.2 Shortly afterward, in an article published in Lingua Franca, Sokal revealed that his Social Text paper had purposely offered insupportable arguments and had drawn illogical conclusions; the hoax had gone unrecognized by the journal's editors, he proposed, because of their unquestioned presumption of the "political correctness of the cultural criticism of science."3 The hoax was perpetrated, claimed Sokal, to counter what he described as cultural studies' refusal of the existence of an external material world or the possibility of science obtaining knowledge of it as such. In all, Sokal hoped to teach those leftists engaged in cultural studies that they did not know science or politics, not if they meant to turn the latter against the former and break with what he described as "the two century old identification" [End Page 1] of the Left with science in order to lay bare "the mystifications promoted by the powerful."4

While it is difficult to determine the long-term effects of the Sokal affair, it would seem that in the years since then, cultural studies of science have been turned over to disciplinary studies of science—specialized fields of science studies within anthropology, sociology, philosophy, history, and psychology—as if to assure the disciplinary and methodological rigor of those engaged in science studies. The study of science differently inflected across the disciplines, in fact, seems to have contained the critical probing that motivated the cultural studies of science. The questions once raised about the legitimacy and authority of Western discourses of science, reason, truth, and disciplinary methods have been quieted, and the relationship of these questions to the interarticulated differences of gender, sexuality, class, race, ethnicity, and nation, for so long productively explored in the critical theories of the late twentieth century, has ceased to be central to social criticism. Even more, it has become difficult, seemingly even undesirable, to engage technoscience, not so much as an object of social criticism but as a resource of thought, that is, to return to the ground Sokal cultivated, albeit with the seeds of bad intentions, to seek support from the thought of technoscience in elaborating a framework for social criticism and thus to face the challenges technoscience now poses for late-twentieth-century critical theories.

Indeed, even when those critical theories are more robustly, if not more accurately, characterized than Sokal's characterization of them, they nonetheless face challenges posed by technoscience, as it pressures a rethinking of dynamism and change, shifting the question of "what matters" from an epistemological domain to an ontological one. While feminist theory, postcolonial theory, queer theory, and critical race theory were not merely dismissive of...


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Archived 2005
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