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The reflexive thesis writing sociology of scientific knowledge

Volume 9 Number 1 1996 The Reflexive Thesis: This is a very clever book. It takes the reader on a thought provoking, demanding, surprising, and witty journey of the puzzles and paradoxes created by the notion of reflexivity and its consequences for knowledge claims made in the field of Sociology of Scientific Knowledge" SSK by members of the Core Set of Sociologists of Scientific Knowledge" CSSSK. It is at times infuriating, sometimes arrogant, often depressingly reticent, but never dull.

Sadly, like many other sociological ventures into post-modernist theorising, it also leaves one with the sense of being stuck in a hall of mirrors, with the fair outside noisily continuing unabated. The core theme of the book is the self-referential character of human knowledge, the paradoxes of self-refutation to which this gives rise, and the logical, philosophical and epistemological attempts that have been made to try to solve, or at least evade, them.

Literature

To this theme Ashmore adds another, that of letting practice follow epistemological precept, and he presents this scholarly text, using SSK as his object of inquiry, in a textually reflexive manner through a continuous set of self-referential discussions.

His aim is to develop a self-aware reflexive writing practice through what he calls "wrighting" writing plus rightingthe sustained textual articulation of reflexive concerns, and to show the possibility of this as a mode of inquiry, thereby avoiding the circularity of employing realist discourse, the very discourse shown by SSK to be so problematic in scientists' accounts of their practices.

  • Reflexive concern with the study of processes of enquiry into the workings of nature, and with communication of such enquiries to others in writing, can throw a great deal of light on the political, ideological and personal influences on, and responses to, the development of what at any one time emerges as plausible answers to questions about the whys and hows;
  • Pickering 1995 is sympathetic; MacKenzie 1990 is close;
  • Sociological and Psychological Perspectives on Science, Dordrecht;
  • Personally, I found the foot-notes a most helpful guide both to the book and to the SSK generally;
  • The Birth of the Prison, New York:

These range from lists of loosely connected "pre-text quotes", running commentary, dialogue not all fictitious, one assumesanalysis, lectures, interviews, a viva, interlocking parallel texts, and so on. The book takes us through its topic across a range of disciplines in philosophy, history, logic, mathematics and sociology. Each chapter presents a different kind of ending, or set of non-concluding conclusions, depending on the kind of discourse indulged in.

The different styles are sometimes used for exemplifying purposes, at other times didactically with question and answer techniques rich in Socratic irony, most modes providing some substantive information about arguments in the SSK, but all employed to illustrate the "occasioned" nature of texts.

As the original texts analysed in SSK writings, ie, scientists' accounts of their activities, do contain knowledge claims even if the reconstructed accounts made by CSSSK the reflexive thesis writing sociology of scientific knowledge not, it is tempting to assume that it is knowledge claims which are taken to be "occasioned", and, hence, that we are in the realm of sociological relativism.

We are, however, assured in a variety of scholarly modes that this is not so, and that reflexive textual practice is a different game altogether - except that this is not one kind of game, but many, depending on whatever other kind of scholastic game we are in.

We are asked to take part in a learning exercise in what a truly reflexive, as opposed to cognitively naive, research and writing practice could should? Given its encompassing, and some would argue, impossible, aim of being both in and of a field, and the presence of such a wide range of narrative and linguistic devices to carry its message across, the final product can only be described as uneven.

  1. The two outstanding pieces are Shapin 1982 , and Shapin 1995; 'Here... It is at times infuriating, sometimes arrogant, often depressingly reticent, but never dull.
  2. Tabletop Trials in Victorian Astronomy', in J.
  3. The constructed "fictions" of "the lecturer" and the PhD "candidate" presented in Chapters One and Seven have moments of pure David Lodge. The book takes us through its topic across a range of disciplines in philosophy, history, logic, mathematics and sociology.
  4. Mulkay 1984 , Opening Pandora's Box.

Some chapters work more successfully than others, depending of course on what its readers define "success" to mean, or in what mode or reading they wish to be. From a theoretical point of view, Chapters Three and Six work very well because of the detailed way in which, in the first of the two, a form of argumentation "tu quoque" or "self-refutation" is so thoroughly turned over and, in the second, an individual writer's S. Woolgaris ethnomethodological meta-discourse on the discourses of scientists is logically and textually taken into bits in search for inconsistencies, irregularities and down right cheap tricks "ironic tensions" in Ashmore's polite phraseology.

A dialogue with the Spirit of Bertrand Russell SOBER is a philosophical gem, not only for the wisdom this spirit displays in putting exaggerated concerns with his paradox in their place, but also for introducing the concept of the "logically immoral". How SOBERing to be reminded that, though relatively harmless, intellectual navel glazing is as much a moral response to the world, as the scientific search for Truth.

Download The Reflexive Thesis: Wrighting Sociology of Scientific by Malcolm Ashmore PDF

The constructed "fictions" of "the lecturer" and the PhD "candidate" presented in Chapters One and Seven have moments of pure David Lodge. As with all romans a clef, insiders to this small core of fairly normal sociologists will no doubt recognise themselves with some embarrassment, not to say anger here and there, whether publicly quoted or anonymously paraphrased.

For students getting into the field, the initial Lecture on the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, and Chapter Two, which is written in the form of An Encyclopedia of Reflexivity and Knowledge, provide condensed Cook's tours as expressed in different academic genres of anybody who is somebody and a few more in the area.

  • Tabletop Trials in Victorian Astronomy', in J;
  • Especially 'The Normative Structure of Science';
  • Fleck 1979 ; Hogle 1985 ; Latour 1987 , 1988, 'Einstein' , 1993 ; Law ed;
  • The main disagreement between Edinburgh and Bath continues to be the question of 'methodological idealism';
  • Perspectives on the Social Study of Science, London:

After all, how much can a student be expected to learn about Derrida, Barthes, Bloor, Russell, Socrates, Naess and the Bath School of SSK, to name but a few, for the purposes of a forty-five minute essay question? Eat your heart out, Haralambos!

Personally, I found the foot-notes a most helpful guide both to the book and to the SSK generally.

Categories

It is as though Ashmore forgets his literary and stylistic pretensions here, and relaxes into providing straight-forward informative commentary on texts and arguments.

This only goes to show that it is hard work to remain reflexive all the time, and a relief for both writer and reader occasionally to slip back into naive or perhaps not quite as naive as SSK may think processes of theoretical and empirical clarification.

Sociology of scientfic knowledge

Reflexive concern with the study of processes of enquiry into the workings of nature, and with communication of such enquiries to others in writing, can throw a great deal of light on the political, ideological and personal influences on, and responses to, the development of what at any one time emerges as plausible answers to questions about the whys and hows.

Such reflexive concerns do not, however, tell us very much about the way in which proposed explanations stand up to corrective responses from the material world itself, nor about which types of reasoning and uses of evidence are more likely to increase our knowledge about the workings of nature and human beings within it, including members of the CSSSK.

The fact that it is within our power to photograph the inside of an arthritic vein as well as the surface of Mars, is not entirely a matter of social construction or textual narrative, whoever writes the report or pays the bill. To a working scientist, the statement that a great number of researchers agree on an empirical issue, an apparently regular state of affairs amongst CSSSK, either means that they are all on the whole correct - in which case they should now get on with it and do something more interesting than reflect on the processes of how they got there - or that they all read the same books, quote and publish each other, go to the same seminars and do not look in sufficiently critical detail at the evidence before them - in which case they might as well erect a dome and call themselves a religion.

Ashmore valiantly tries to stay clear of this dilemma by professing a role for himself as textual consciousness raiser perched outside the games of both scientists and sociologists of science. After a few hundred pages of his analytical skills, one the reflexive thesis writing sociology of scientific knowledge help but wish that he had applied his intelligence and literary talents less to the deconstruction of the "wrighting" of both himself and others, and more to a clarification of his own "write" of the arguments he wishes to make.

As it stands, the book is not unlike an Eco novel: