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Trading Zones and Interactional Expertise Harry Collins, Robert Evans, and Michael E. Gorman Trading Zones as the Locus of Incommensurability Peter Galison introduced the term “trading zone” to the social studies of science.1 His purpose was to resolve the problem of incommensurability between Kuhnian paradigms : How do scientists communicate if paradigms are incommensurable?2 Galison’s approach has two legs. The first leg denies that scientific paradigms are as monolithic as Kuhn says. The second leg uses the metaphor of the trading zone to explain how communication is managed where there is a degree of incommensurability. Here we concentrate on the second leg. We concentrate on the second leg because the first leg diverts attention from the interesting philosophical/sociological questions; if paradigms are not monolithic then, wherever they overlap, there is no problem to be resolved. Thus, Galison points out that even if there were theoretical incommensurability between, say, the Newtonian and Einsteinian worlds, experiment went on much as before and those who built instruments went on much as before. But if Kuhn is read as applying the Wittgensteinian notion of “form of life” to science, then there is less continuity, even in the realms of experiment and instruments. The “actors” in those spheres may not experience the continuity that the analyst sees. For example, even if it seems to the analyst that the same material objects are being built by instrument makers before and after the revolution, the instrument makers themselves might see them as having different meanings before and after the revolution, rather as a cowrie shell might be an ornament for one tribe, a unit of currency for another tribe, and your grandmother’s soul for another tribe. To think of the cowrie shell as the “same thing” in each of these cases is to privilege a certain kind of analyst’s viewpoint, something which is encouraged by the recent obsession in science and technology studies with the material. The interesting thing is that sometimes different groups manage to trade with material objects that may be “the same” from our point of view but are not the same from 2 8 Harry Collins, Robert Evans, and Michael E. Gorman theirs. Galison makes the point, remarking: “Two groups can agree on rules of exchange even if they ascribe utterly different significance to the objects being exchanged; they may even disagree on the meaning of the exchange process itself. Nonetheless, the trading partners can hammer out a local coordination, despite vast global differences” (Galison 1997, 783). It is how this is done that is the interesting problem for analysis; some analysts take apparent material continuity to be the solution to the problem rather than the problem to be solved. We make no attempt to solve the problem in this paper, but it should not be forgotten when we talk, below, of “boundary objects.”3 Not all trade is conducted in trading zones—at least, not according to our definition . We define “trading zones” as locations in which communities with a deep problem of communication manage to communicate. If there is no problem of communication , there is simply “trade,” not a “trading zone.” Here, however, we consider only those cases where there are difficulties of communication and ask how they are overcome. That is the problem of trading zones as we see it. To repeat, if we do not start with a problem of communication, we do not have the problem of trading zones, we simply have “trade.” Interlanguage Trading Zones To resolve the problem of trading zones as defined here, Galison (1997) looks to real economic trade in food and other goods between culturally disparate communities. He claims the problem is solved by the development of “in-between” vocabularies through which communication can be accomplished. The simplest of these “interlanguages ” is a “jargon,” more complex is a “pidgin,” while a “creole” is a new language in itself. Galison applies this metaphor to science. Using it he describes the development of technologies such as radar and high-energy-physics particle detectors which involve/d communication between physicists and engineers, whom he treats as culturally dissimilar groups. He also describes the growth of new sciences, such as biochemistry , which arose out of chemistry and biology. In this case the result is a new expertise in biochemistry which involves a full-blown creole which can be taught as a freestanding language/culture to new generations of students. We can call the resolution of communications via jargons, pidgins, and creoles an...


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