5th Biennial Conference of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP) Aarhus 2015

Parallel Session 4C
Thursday, 25 June 2015, 09:00–11:00 in G2
Session chair: Julia Bursten (University of Pittsburgh)
Making Sense of Theoretical Practices: Scripts, Scruples and the Mass of the Universe
  • Jaco de Swart (University of Amsterdam)


The scientific activities we could signify as “theoretical” – activities involving theories, formalisms, equations, and calculations – have enjoyed relatively little attention in studies of science in practice. As Bruno Latour put it: “almost no one has had the courage to do a careful anthropological study of formalism” (Latour, 1987, p. 246). Although there are some interesting exceptions, it seems that this 25-year-old observation has still not lost its accuracy. In this paper I take this observation seriously, and elaborate on some recent ideas of Latour to illustrate that a new and more performative terminology will provide tools to better approach theoretical practices.

These tools, I argue, can be found in Latour’s most recent project, “An Inquiry into Modes of Existence” (2013), in a context that is not obviously related to the study of science. In the sections on ‘Organisation’ and ‘Morality’

Latour analyzes acts of calculation as they appear in economic activity, where they are used to “express preferences, to establish quittances, to trace ends [and] to settle accounts” (Latour, 2013, p. 465). He deploys the notion of scripts – constraining narratives – and Frank Cochoy’s notion of qualculation – quality-based judgements – to make sense of what he refers to as the scruples of organisational, moral and economic action. Although the context in which these notions are applied is different, I seek to demonstrate that the notions of scripts, scruples and qualculations are very suitable to study theory as a scientific practice.

To make this explicit, I make use of an example from early twentieth century physical cosmology: a short paper of Einstein and De Sitter (1932), and the application of what now are known as the “Friedmann equations” to calculate the mass density of the universe. The arguments, assumptions and calculations involved in this work exemplifies how activities in the production of theoretical knowledge can be understood in terms of the piling up of scripts and the coping with scruples. It becomes clear that extending Latour’s new work to a context of theoretical science can indeed offer a valuable set of tools that helps to shift attention towards a more performative assessment of theory in practice. More specifically, I argue that the activity of making objects adequate, the process of adequation, plays a central role in such an analysis of the performance of theory. Contrasting this perspective with Latour’s earlier focus on centres of calculation and their bookkeeping, I hope to create room for the practices of theoretical sciences to be followed more closely.

Situating Styles of Reasoning
  • Adam Toon (University of Exeter)


In a series of influential articles, Ian Hacking has argued that we may identify a number of different styles of reasoning within scientific practice, each with its own history (e.g. 1982, 1992, 2012). Furthermore, in his earliest paper on styles, ‘Language, Truth and Reason’ (1982), Hacking argues that styles of reasoning lead to a form of relativism. His argument for this claim appeals to positivist theories of meaning: if the meaning of a proposition depends upon the style of reasoning appropriate to establishing its truth or falsehood, then the birth of a new style brings new propositions into being as candidates for truth or falsehood. As a result, styles cannot be subjected to independent criticism, since the propositions they evaluate have no meaning outside of the style.

In his more recent work on styles, Hacking has placed less emphasis on their relativistic implications. Two other developments are also important for the present paper. The first is that Hacking is keen to stress that styles of reasoning are not styles of thinking, since “thinking is too much in the head” and omits “the manipulative hand and the attentive eye” (1992, pp. 3 – 4). Styles involve an “embodied creature [that] uses not just its mind but its body to think and to act in the world” (2012, p. 600). The second important development is that Hacking now links styles of reasoning to a burgeoning form of inquiry that he calls cognitive history. This is “the study of how an organism with certain cognitive capacities, on a planet like this, developed (etc.)” (2012, p. 607), exemplified by works such as Renfrew, Frith, and Malafouris’ The Sapient Mind: Archaeology Meets Neuroscience (2009, OUP).

Recently, one of the main proponents of such work, Lambros Malafouris, has argued that an appropriate theoretical framework for these studies can be found in a range of recent work in cognitive science, which goes by names such as situated, embodied, extended, and distributed cognition (Malafouris, 2013). Each of these approaches stresses the importance of interaction between the brain, body and environment in our cognitive processes. In this talk, I will ask how these frameworks might be brought to bear upon styles of reasoning, thereby underpinning Hacking’s own emphasis on the role of the body in scientists’ reasoning. Interestingly, I will argue, this approach to understanding styles might also be thought to give rise to a form of relativism, since work in situated cognition suggests that people are unable to engage in certain thought processes in the absence of particular external, material devices. I will examine this ‘situated’ reading of styles of reasoning in detail, and ask how the relativism that emerges from it might differ from Hacking’s own view.


  • Hacking, I. (1982). ‘Language, Truth and Reason’. In Rationality and Relativism, M. Hollis and S. Lukes (eds.) (MIT), pp. 48–66.
  • Hacking, I. (1992) ‘“Style” for Historians and Philosophers’. Studies In History and Philosophy of Science 23 (1), 1–20.
  • Hacking, I. (2012). ‘“Language, Truth and Reason” 30 Years Later’. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 43 (4), 599–609.
  • Malafouris, L. (2013). How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement (MIT)
Performing Medical: Transforming Institutional Identity at the Jackson Laboratory
  • Ekin Yasin (New York University)


Based on fieldwork conducted at a leading genetic research facility, the Jackson Laboratory, this paper tracks the institution’s transformation from a genetic research laboratory into a genomic medicine center. Located in Bar Harbor, Maine the Jackson Laboratory has been at the front of research that examines the genetic causes and treatments of human cancer - by studying it on mice. Recently, Jackson Laboratory undertook a new project of building a genomic medicine center in Farmington, CT which promises to do translational cancer research in collaboration with University of Connecticut’s Cancer Center.

In this paper I chronicle and think about the transformation of this institution’s identity. I describe administrative and communication team’s rush to re-present themselves as the institution becomes relevant to more donors who starts to see clear links between animal based genetic research and human well being. From purchasing stock images of cancer patients who have no real links to the institution to producing promotional videos with patients who have not been treated by the institution, the laboratory devised a number of new tactics which I call in this paper performing medical. By this term, I refer to transformative stage such institutions find themselves in - they are closer to the field of medicine as the research being conducted on animals more rapidly can be linked on research being done for humans. However this translation is not yet immediate and the proximity to the field of medicine is a novel undertaking.

In order to understand the performance of the medical I focus on three tactics. The first one of these tactics is concealment. How is it that the personalization of medicine and genetic research on human cancer is so tied to laboratory animals yet there is a consistent desire to conceal this relationship? Is there a systematic unease about the practice of scientific research? Is this unease more visible now that this field closer in time and practice to the field of medicine? The second tactic is re-narrating. Whilst the laboratory rebranded itself as a scientific mecca of genomic medicine the time the institution still has a confused relationship to the field of medicine. The Communication team at the laboratory has to create novel connections as the pressure for funding rises. How can a scientific research facility communicate their research’s relevance to patient’s and patient’s family? What is the best name to give to this type of scientific research? How can the institution sell the idea of a cure in the future often not attainable during the lifetime of patients? The last tactic is collaborating. This last tactic reorients the culture of laboratories. With the rising possibilities of translation and collaboration amongst disciplines of science and medicine performing medical becomes an imperative at the laboratory. In this way the spirit and action at the Jackson Laboratory contrasts the laboratory environment Woolgar and Latour (1979) has described. The concerns for funding and the rapid expansion results in the laboratory as a space not merely for “production of papers” but instead a space where connections to donors has to be made periodically. For this goal scientists have to collaborate with a staff of story-tellers and marketing specialists to invent new ways to speak to a new audience.

Practice Theory and Pragmatism in Science & Technology Studies: Convergence or Collision?
  • Anders Buch (Aalborg University Copenhagen)


Science & Technology Studies (STS) and social science has made a turn, a ‘practice turn’, and the notion ‘practice theory’ has made its way into the field of STS. But it is notable that proponents of this turn and theory rarely mention American pragmatism as a source of inspiration or refer to pragmatist philosophy. Reading through the practice theoretical STS literature the vista seems to come very close to positions occupied by classical American pragmatists.

In this paper, I invite you on a journey, which I have just begun, to find out not why contemporary scholars of practice theory as for example Rouse, Schatzki and Reckwitz refrain from including the pragmatist legacy in their writings. This question would probably either be entirely speculative or maybe even not very interesting? Rather, I want to explore what these two apparently similar ways of theorizing do to the study of science and technology, or to some of these studies. It is impossible to cover all STS studies inspired by practice theory, and I probably have not found all the studies drawing on pragmatism. It is in the spirit of both practice theory and pragmatism to reach out, to try to bridge ideas by talking to other traditions rather than shut themselves off in a closed closet (Bernstein, 1989; Nicolini, 2013), and as one of the contemporary pragmatist philosophers says with reference to Dewey’s “Experience and Nature” (1925 [1981]): “To be human is to be engaged in practices” (Boisvert, 2012: 109).

To back up my argument, I begin by an introduction to some of the proponents of practice theory and of pragmatism. Regarding the latter, I primarily present work by Dewey because this is what I am most familiar with. Although I recognize that practice theory and pragmatism differ on fundamental philosophical issues in relation to the normative evaluation of action, I show that the two intellectual traditions have much in common when it comes to what they do to STS studies. After this introduction to practice theory, my paper will proceed in the following steps. Firstly, I will briefly survey practice theoretical and pragmatist contributions to STS studies in order to discern their respective accounts of practices and human activity. Secondly, I will trace these accounts back to Dewey’s and Schatzki’s philosophical reconstructions of the concept of ‘practice’ and ‘action’ in order to tease out differences and similarities between pragmatist and practice theoretical understandings. Thirdly, I will – mainly trough the work of Joseph Rouse – vindicate that the seeming collision points between practice theory and pragmatism (mainly in relation to conceptions of ‘normativity’ and ‘naturalism’) can in fact be overcome. I will argue that a pragmatist approach can add valuable resources to a practice theoretical ‘toolkit’ of studying and representing science and technology.