Science, Culture and Society
Science, Culture and Society
This is a book about what science is, how it is made and how it is represented in society and culture. We have a range of resources available to us to make sense of science, such as journals, histories of science, popular science books and magazines, social science accounts of science and science fiction novels and films. This book examines these resources and their interconnections to help to understand what science is, how we can define science and why science matters in contemporary society. Science is fabricated from language and discourse, actions and practices, representations and material cultures. However, where many social science accounts see science as being confined to laboratories and other designated sites of scientific production, this book sees science spread through our society and culture, unfolding in multiple domains and in multiple forms. Science is a social construction, but all of society is involved in constructing science, not just scientists.
Science and technology studies (STS) has emerged as a diverse discipline that sees scientific knowledge and technological artefacts as being constructions. By this STS means that the knowledge that emerges from scientific situations - laboratories, observatories and so on - and the technologies that emerge from scientific knowledge are constructed and contingent on when and where they were made. On this view scientific knowledge is not discovered, uncovered or found, but is actively made through the actions and interactions of scientists and engineers using the resources that surround them. It therefore opposes a longstanding view of scientific knowledge as 'out there' waiting to be 'discovered' or 'uncovered' by talented individuals. From the STS perspective science and technology are social activities that reflect the social conditions of their production and the social conditions of those involved in their production. This book is, in part, an examination of the roots and current status of these ways of understanding science and technology.
However, there are a number of issues that arise from the STS position. The first is that many, or even most people who are involved in producing scientific knowledge and new technologies do not subscribe to the story that STS tells. For them, science is a progressive, neutral activity that produces true knowledge and facts about the natural world through applying a standard method. Most scientists do not think that the knowledge they produce is contingent on social factors or conditions, only that it is constrained by the limits of scientific possibility, material and technical resources or funding. The understanding of what science is from inside scientific institutions is often very different from that of STS scholars. In this book I have attempted to produce accounts of science that scientists themselves might recognize.
Secondly, understanding that science and technology are socially constructed tells us little about how and why science has a particular status in our society. In fact, it probably does the opposite. The commonly held view in Western industrial societies is that science is a form of knowledge that produces results that are more concrete, 'better' and more factual than other ways of making sense of the world. Our societies are filled with representations of science as a more precise way of understanding, of science as a solution to problems in the world, of science as a prop to shore up political ideologies, of science as creating a better future for us. The dominant story of science in society, scientism, tells us that science is a form of knowledge and a method of investigation that is separate, bounded and superior to other knowledge and ways of investigating. Social studies of science have long since debunked this myth, but it is very persistent in societal understandings and expectations of science.
A further point needs to be face