Accepted Paper:

Enacting anti-contextualism: excessive relationality and problems of historical continuity   


Reuben Message (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

Dissolving object (science) and context (politics) distinctions and replacing them with excessively relational, anti-contextualist assumptions privileges synchrony in research and guarantees novelty in findings. Origins, possible consequences and examples are explored with reference to trends in STS.

Paper long abstract:

Latour's statement "science is a continuation of politics by other means" represents an incipient anti-contextualism that has since proven highly productive in STS. I explore some implications of the implied dissolution of the distinction between object and context for successful efforts at grappling with the patterns of continuity and novelty that characterise social and historical change. Occurring today under a variety of names, including ANT, constitutive co-production, and performative theories of 'enactment', I suggest there is a strengthening tendency to develop tools fit for studying phenomena in the present (or 'in action'), in which objects are construed as transient effects coterminous with ongoing relational practices. These are usually justified by the perennial STS slogan that 'things could be otherwise' (or done 'by other means'). But in so doing they unintentionally serve to critique one version of essentialism by replacing it with another - a 'relational essentialism' - in which we risk finding ourselves suspended in a research environment characterised by presentism, synchronism, and the prevalence of methodologies practiced in discovering instances of radical novelty wherever we look, but without adequate means of evaluating or explaining it. I will refer to original research in the history of aquaculture technology in Britain in order to help illustrate my argument.

Panel T023
Science Is Politics by Other Means Revisited