Accepted Paper:

Aesthetics and the Making of Technoscientific Publics  


Mike Michael (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses a number of approaches to ‘aesthetics’. Drawing on various case studies, a typology is developed which tentatively describes the means by which aesthetics might illuminate the social, epistemic, affective, etc elements entailed in the eventuation of ‘technoscientific publics’.

Paper long abstract:

In keeping with the track (The Event of the Public: Convolutions of Aesthetic and Epistemic Practice) focus, this paper explores the multiple eventuations of 'aesthetics' in relation to technoscientific (and social scientific) enactments of publics. As such, it discusses a number of ways in which 'aesthetics' may be understood, including Bourdieusian practices of taste, Latourian modes of representation (iconoclash), and Mol's mediation of the senses. Applying these perspectives to empirical examples drawn from the public engagement with science and technology, the paper traces how 'aesthetics' can do different sorts of analytic work, illuminating, respectively, social, epistemic and affective dimensions of public engagement processes. Thus, for example, in the aesthetic engagement with 'methodological devices' (eg stimulus materials, cultural probes, science communication installations), perceived 'beauty' or 'ugliness' can evoke social differentiation, divergent truth claims, or variable feelings of comfort. Developing this line of argument further, a typology is tentatively proposed in which aesthetics is shown to articulate (with) a range of elements that attach to the eventuation of 'technoscientific publics' - additionally, the ethical, the political and the economic. However, in all these cases, the 'aesthetic' has been deployed as a partial 'cipher' for those other elements that contribute to the making of the 'technoscientific public' (the epistemic, the social, etc). The paper ends with a plea that the 'aesthetic' be treated 'on its own terms' and 'in its own right', though with circumspection given that the 'aesthetic' will itself be illuminated by the social, the epistemic, the political etc.

Panel T012
The Event of the Public: Convolutions of Aesthetic and Epistemic Practice