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  • A Nonhumanist Disposition:On Performativity, Practical Ontology, and Intervention
  • Casper Bruun Jensen (bio)
Abstract

How to turn an opposition into a possible matter of contrast? Obviously, this is not only a question of goodwill. My guess is that we may do so through the experimental extension of the specific risks that singularize each position. Giving a chance for contrasts to be created where oppositions rule implies producing a middle ground but not a medium or average mitigating differences. It should be a middle ground for testing, in order that the contrasts evolve not from tamed differences but from creatively redefined ones.1

How to turn an opposition into a possible matter of contrast? Obviously, this is not only a question of goodwill. My guess is that we may do so through the experimental extension of the specific risks that singularize each position. Giving a chance for contrasts to be created where oppositions rule implies producing a middle ground but not a medium or average mitigating differences. It should be a middle ground for testing, in order that the contrasts evolve not from tamed differences but from creatively redefined ones.1

Science and technology studies (STS) today can be viewed as a relatively stable enterprise, with its own conferences, journals, professional organizations, and graduate programs. With Bruno Latour, one could talk about the black-boxing of STS—however, characterizing a study as "in STS" does not determine its features very predictably because the field of inquiry is heterogeneous as regards the assumptions, theories, institutional affiliations, methods, approaches, goals, and interests of its practitioners; Michael Lynch and Kathleen Jordan's term "translucent box" is probably more fitting.2 [End Page 229]

Undoubtedly, this diversity and differentiation make any one description of STS problematic. As has been argued, disciplinary "looseness" is often an asset, rather than a weakness, for developing disciplines and practices,3 which are anyway inevitably shaped in the historically contingent interactions between multiple kinds of actors with different agendas and aspirations. The gesture of presenting one's study as a "strong case" by emphasizing the coherent theoretical basis on which it is built thus reproduces an idea with which STS itself has regularly taken issue: that the unified position of a scientific community is necessarily a measure of the epistemological merit of that community and therefore conveys, or at least ought to convey, additional credibility to the statements of its members.4

Rather than unification, several debates that may be observed within and around STS bear resemblance to what Barbara Herrnstein Smith has called the microdynamics of incommensurability. Their familiar frustrations are exemplified as follows: "'You can't argue with these people,' says one. 'They don't play by the rules; they challenge every word you say.' 'It's like talking to a brick wall,' says the other. 'They don't hear a word you say; they keep repeating the same arguments.'"5 Smith proposes that such stalemates are often not due [End Page 230] to simple misunderstanding or to differences in vocabulary, but are rather symptomatic of "systematically interrelated divergences of conceptualization, that emerge at every level and operate across an entire intellectual domain."6

Within and around STS, such divergences display themselves with especial vigor in relation to recently emerging agendas revolving around such notions as performativity and practical ontology, and the activation of objects as nonhuman actors. Put together, these shifts in the understanding of the content and stakes of STS can be seen as characterizing a "posthumanist" or "nonhumanist" disposition—one that has been particularly (but not exclusively) inspired by poststructuralism and pragmatism. Criticisms of various aspects of such a disposition have been expressed particularly in terms of normative worries, and accusations of political abdication. In view of such criticism, and coming with a keen interest in the constructive possibilities of nonhumanist STS, I believe that an important task lies in articulating the considerable potential, in terms of both alternative conceptualizations and interventions, that such studies may hold.

Instead of claiming, in the following, to represent STS as a whole, I draw upon a range of ideas from such writers as Donna Haraway, Andrew Pickering, and Bruno Latour, which have various affinities with poststructuralists such as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6520
Print ISSN
1063-1801
Pages
pp. 229-261
Launched on MUSE
2006-02-07
Open Access
No
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