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  • Does the Climate Need Consensus?The Politics of Climate Change Revisited
  • Gert Goeminne (bio)

For all the talk of science being political, it is amazing how little research has been invested in the conceptualisation of “the political” within post-positivist philosophy of science. The latter gathered momentum in the 1960s with the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in which Thomas Kuhn pointed out that social factors such as scientists’ concerns and interests play a prominent role in the emergence of scientific theories. In the aftermath of Kuhn, the emergent field of constructivist thought, now generally known under the banner of Science and Technology Studies (STS), has further concentrated on the social embeddedness of scientific practice. Opening up the black box of scientific practice, STS has brought about what I call a “first-order claim” that science is political. Although this first-order claim comes in different flavors, its central gist is that actual scientific practice, because of its situated and human character, results in imperfect, value-laden and perspective-bound knowledge.1 In response to this widespread first-order claim, STS-scholars have repeatedly argued that the expert world of science should be brought into democracy if it is to serve as a legitimate basis for decision-making. Democratization, in turn, has quite straightforwardly been conceived in terms of increased public engagement through reflexive communication and participatory approaches. In the last two decades, this call for a democratization of expertise has gained increasing appeal with scientists and policy-makers involved in environmental decision-making. It has, for instance, led the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to extend its composition and include non-climate science experts and to communicate their findings in a more open and reflexive way, thereby showing awareness of the value-laden and uncertain nature of the results. Although this democratization paradigm provides a corrective to the implicit privilege that the model of rational decision-making grants science, licensing non-expert involvement in the characterization of current conditions and in [End Page 147] the pursuit of “optimal” solutions, it—quite symptomatically—reproduces the traditional logic which assumes that superior outcomes rest upon the quality of scientific facts informing them (Healy, 202). In this paper, I will start from the argument that such STS-inspired reforms fall short because they are predicated upon an inadequate understanding of the politics of science. Within constructivist science studies, the concept of the political itself is all too often used as a black-box containing a variety of critical claims vis-à-vis science’s self-proclaimed values of universalism and rationalism, thereby giving way to dualistic ideas about either the politicization of science or the scientization of politics as threatening democracy. It is therefore my conviction that STS needs to engage more explicitly with political thought if it is to open—simultaneously—the inextricable black boxes of science and politics. This essay constitutes an attempt to bridge the worlds of constructivist and critical political thought. In contrast with the widespread first-order claim that science is political, I will therefore elaborate on a second-order claim that turns the first-order argument upside down: science is necessarily political as it is the situated, human and—as I will argue more specifically—concerned character of scientific practice that makes scientific knowledge possible in the first place. Rather than being a secondary, negative property that keeps science away from being perfect, its political character will therefore be understood as a primary, positive quality of scientific knowledge.

When Matters of Fact Become Matters of Concern

Over the past few decades, STS has taken down the unworldly image of science as a truth-speaking device and replaced it with a practice-inspired account of science as culture. In arguing that matters of fact are always also matters of a particular concern, Bruno Latour has explicitly thematised this inherently human, that is to say, “concerned” character of scientific practice (2004, 225). Seen within the context of its construction, he argues, scientific knowledge aims to fulfill a certain function, and the choice of that function depends on the scientist’s concern: What kind of knowledge is aimed at? What is it supposed to account...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0627
Print ISSN
1069-0697
Pages
pp. 147-161
Launched on MUSE
2013-12-22
Open Access
No
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