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SSK’s identity parade: signing-up, off-and-on.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal article

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1996
<mark>Journal</mark>Social Studies of Science
Issue number2
Number of pages35
Pages (from-to)357-391
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This paper examines the debate over the relationship between SSK and politics by exploring the implications of `the reflexive turn' during the 1980s. However, it does this by looking outward, at the ways in which a reflexive SSK can potentially help enlighten the culture of political issues, rather than inwards, at the methods and forms of SSK itself. The key element of this strategy is to sustain an analytical vocabulary which problematizes the human subject, whether as author of SSK work, or of public policies and public policy knowledges. I take it for granted that this cannot be fully achieved, but it remains a key principle. Reconsidering the `Capturing' debate, the paper notes several unfortunate features held in common (and uncritically reinforced) by both `sides' to that agenda. These include the reification of `sides' and (more generally) of social actors (and thus of the issues at stake); and the reproduction of an implicit model of society as constituted exhaustively by active choices and decisions — thus neglecting the cultural dimensions of social (including cognitive) life. Using examples drawn from environmental opposition to nuclear power, and the construction of scientific and policy knowledge about global climate change, I argue that problematizing the identities and interests of actors within our own sociological knowledge forum, as is achieved through `the reflexive turn', and extending this to the construction and deployment of knowledge in public issues, allows a much richer, more contingent and more multivalent understanding of what is at stake in any `given' issue to come into view. This may appear to undermine the basis of policy bodies' authority — except that their authority is, I suggest, already failing precisely because they cannot recognize the contingencies in the knowledges on which they rely. Refusing to enter public controversies with scientific or technical content as either partisans or disengaged neutrals, and eschewing false debates about epistemic probity, SSK scholars can nevertheless offer intellectual resources with which to encourage institutional reflexivity, and to rebuild a democratic culture of public policy.