"Science is at its most productive when it defines new agencies that share their life with a scientific community. It is, thus, only the social scientists who put the cart before the horse by discussing the rigor and certainty of a fact, before having defined the new agencies [existing entities with lives of their own: sample- and scale-free variables] under examination. Such methodological rhetoric in anthropology [or in any other field] carries no more meaning than the construction of a highway, six lanes wide and several hundred meters long, located in the middle of nowhere. It would be robust and rigorous, yet where would it lead? What kind of traffic is it designed to carry? These are the questions that take precedence over the actual dimensions of the road."
"Once we have rejected the useless dreams of methodological rigor [disconnected from productive agency], where does anthropology stand if it tries to imitate not the purity of what it imagines in the natural sciences, but the real productivity of those disciplines - embodied in the new agencies they mobilize?"
"There is nothing especially cold or uninvolved in the production of science. On the contrary, experimental scientists are involved, close to their subject matter and passionate. What matters in the production of facts is not the Objective Gaze, but what properties might be maintained in the transformation of information through successive media [i.e., how well does the construct hold up across samples of persons and items?]."
"The more mediations, the better. This is as true for chemistry as for botany, psychology and ethnography. To believe that involvement, transformation, adulteration, reformatting and displacement weaken a Pure Science of Pure Objectivity is to have never seen a practicing scientist at work."
"The slogan, Science is politics pursued by other means, actually helps science because it insists on those other means necessary to build a society."
Latour, B. (1996, March). Not the question. AAA Anthropology Newsletter, 37(3), 1, 5.
Latour's sense of agency is fairly common in anthropology, and in social studies of science. For instance, standards are held to be both agents and products of agreement (Widmalm 1995; Wise 1995). When different labs working with different samples using different brands or configurations of instruments nonetheless converge on a common variable, the objective existence of the variable acts as an agent of standardization and agreement. When scientists and technicians get together to agree on the conventions of numerical units and data quality, the standard is the product of agreement. Latour's remark that, "the more mediations, the better," speaks to the robustness of phenomena that can withstand and even thrive on the transformations through successive media.
William P. Fisher, Jr.
Widmalm, S. (1995, May 12). On exactitude, a review of The Values of Precision, by M. Norton Wise. Science, 268, 905-6.
Wise, M. N. (Ed.). (1995). The values of precision. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rasch Measurement as the Definition of Scientific Agency. Fisher, W.P. Jr. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 2000, 14:3 p.761
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