- Knowledge and Evidence: Investigating Technologies in Practice ed. by Boel Berner, Corinna Kruse
Edited by Boel Berner and Corinna Kruse. Linköping Studies in Technology and Social Change. Linköping: Linköping University, 2013. Pp. x+262. SEK150.
Bringing coherence to an edited volume is a difficult task, one that could seem almost impossible when, as is the case here, all the articles have been previously published elsewhere. At first glance one is tempted to ask what Viagra and railway maintenance have to do with each other, except for the authors being linked to the department of Technology and Social Change in Linköping, Sweden. This link seems to be enough however, since the volume reads quite coherently, with each piece centered on the practice of creating knowledge and evidence.
Many of the contributions deal with this practice by considering the body and the different ways in which bodies are made, negotiated, used, and overlooked. In the first article, Corinna Kruse applies feminist critical theory to forensic evidence to show how sexed bodies are “made” in forensics, while Isabelle Dussauge shows how a certain framing makes sexuality “neural,” reducing the body to a set of statistically significant patterns of brain activity. As a contrast, Ericka Johnson’s chapter about the formulation of erectile dysfunction shows how the discourse around impotence has changed over time in relation to the appearance of medicines such as Viagra. What was once framed as a problem to be solved by partners in cooperation and through therapy was reframed medically as a purely physiological matter.
Boel Berner’s and Johan Sanne’s chapters about the practices of work with machines bring up the tactile and bodily aspect of how humans understand and learn about their technological environments. Berner’s two pieces discuss how people learn to work with machines, as well as the extent to which machine performance depends on manual labor and the experiences of the workers. Sanne’s study following railway maintenance workers as they “make matter speak” while diagnosing technical equipment [End Page 749] shows how this happens in practice. He employs the concept of “heterogeneous engineering” to describe the way that diagnostics come out of social and technical “schooling” in a certain field, as well as from experience, practices, and different approaches to material (i.e., touching, seeing, listening).
Another theme connecting the different chapters is the way in which we use storytelling and practices to deal with the complexities of scientific and technological issues, and to distill facts. One example of such “cleaning” of facts and how it contributes to the credibility of scientific evidence is analyzed by Claes-Fredrik Helgesson in his case study of the cleaning of data in randomized clinical trials. A different type of cleaning process is investigated by Per Gyberg and Francis Lee in their chapter about how meaning and knowledge about energy are negotiated and created in the classroom. In this process, the differences between “facts” and “opinions” are clearly delineated, and one distilled discourse is created, in this case about energy supply, which excludes other possible issues connected to energy and sustainability. Kruse’s second contribution describes how this way of distilling stories also happens in pre-trial investigations, where forensic evidence is formulated into distinct stories that are told in the courtroom.
Two articles deal with the inherent values of research and teaching. Vasilis Galis and Anders Hansson unpack their own experiences in order to find out what partisan scholarship may look like, where researchers make “conscious and situated epistemological choices to counter scientific orthodoxy” (p. 123). Lee studies the way a seemingly neutral learning technology, such as the use of “learning objects,” embodies values that manifest in the kind of knowledge and education the teaching aids propose, leading to an “epistemic atomism”: a contextless and self-contained view of learning, standardized across fields.
The contributions are deeply entrenched in STS methodology (i.e., participatory fieldwork, interviews, text analysis). In his concluding remarks, Harald Rohracher points out that the book can be read as an introduction to STS research through cases, and I have to agree. This does not, however, mean...