On various occasions during the last few months I noticed that we in STS (and we as ANTers especially) have a tendency to talk small when talking big. Some examples needed? Small ones of course? Here they are:
- not a theory, not a method”: A classic! Despite its beginnings – does someone still remember the Sociology of Translation or the great methodological subtitle of Science in Action? – nearly every account given of the status of ANT “today” resonates on the “oh, it is not a theory” (starting in 1999 with Latour’s “Recalling ANT”) and the “oh, it is not a method” theme. And while this looks like a withdrawl from “big debates” on theory and method and as a way of saying “we have nothing to offer if you are looking for that”, the answer of what it is, if not a theory and not a method, is: an approach, an attitude. That sounds modest, but has, when takken seriously, massive effects.
- “Thin concepts, modest methods, weak explanations”: Now if that is not at the center of the approach…in theory, methods and even in respect to what really is at stake we love to be modest — although we of course are not. Thin concepts are regarded as the strongest possible for thick narratives, modest methods are in fact really demanding and hard to “use” and weak explanations of local, situated and limited phenomena are valuated as far more solid than those with bigger pretense.
- “don’t try to get it right!”: ok, we (Nicholas and I) are to blame for that… but reflexivity in STS demands that whenever we studiy epistemic processes and knowledge creation we should not try to know better as our voice is just one more that adds to controversities we study. That was easy when studying technoscience – knowing better than someone working in particle physics or biotech is just too hard. But once we study ourselves or our relatives in economics, population science or political theory it is tempting to know better…but it is better not to try.
It is not just a matter of style: we actually like our concepts, our cases and our methodological rigor to be tiny and gigantic at the very same time. That has a lot of reasons, of course, the history of science studies, the science wars and our, well, not so great experiences with Bruno’s (and Michel’s and John’s) big gestures in the mid 90s being just the least important. After lowercasing science we are lowercasing ourselves. And then? What will follow? Will we stop there? Thoughts?