Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Flexible Fascism

After the last posting on Steve Fuller, I was astonished to find on youtube a clip from Science & Technology Studies attempting to illustrate actor network theory by using the example of Spielberg's film about the Holocaust, "Schindler's List". What is most unfortunate about this is how critics such as Fuller have compared ANT (see particularly his book "Thomas Kuhn") to the Nazi model of "flexible fascism" analysed by Franz Neumann in his famous study, "Behemoth". Afterall, what defined the Third Reich, as my informant ahuthnance has insisted, was its principle of "working towards the Fuhrer". Each agency had relative autonomy in the manner it was able to flexibly interpret the objectives it was working towards. The analogy holds that this is tantamount to both the neoliberal and ANT interpretation of policy science.
Is any other conclusion really possible?:
"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce". Karl Marx
Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 30, No. 1, 5-32 (2000)
© 2000 SAGE Publications
Why Science Studies Has Never Been Critical of Science: Some Recent Lessons on How to Be a Helpful Nuisance and a Harmless Radical

Steve Fuller
University of Warwick

Research in Science and Technology Studies (STS) tends to presume that intellectual and political radicalism go hand in hand. One would therefore expect that the most intellectually radical movement in the field relates critically to its social conditions. However, this is not the case, as demonstrated by the trajectory of the Parisian School of STS spearheaded by Michel Callon and Bruno Latour. Their position, "actor-network theory," turns out to be little more than a strategic adaptation to the democratization of expertise and the decline of the strong nation-state in France over the past 25 years. This article provides a prehistory of this client-driven, contract-based research culture in U.S. sociology of the 1960s, followed by specific features of French philosophical and political culture that have bred the distinctive tenets of actor-network theory. Insofar as actor-network theory has become the main paradigm for contemporary STS research, it reflects a field that dodges normative commitments in order to maintain a user-friendly presence.

Make a list of the most important actants, including humans and non-humans
Describe the roles played by each actant and roles that they might play
Describe the most relevant values of each actant
Work out the most important relations among these actants, and sketch the resulting sociogram/technogram. Think about what translations of values are going on, and what ongoing work is being done to maintain these links.
Look for instances of infrastructural submersion, e.g., work done by "low level" people, systems taken for granted, etc.
Think about possibilities for conflict, ambiguity and instability, as well as for cooperation.
Think about the possible evolution of the network; if some scenarios seem especially important, sketch sociograms/technograms for possible future states; look for multiple alternatives.

Criticisms of ANT
Steve Fuller: ANT as "flexible fascism"
ANT dehumanises humans
Doesn't explain why some actors are enrolled and why others resist
Fails to take account of the effects that technology can have on those who are not part of the network that produces it
Fails to provide explanations for the dynamic restructuring of networks
Ignores the material resources needed to sustain networks
Unable or unwilling to make contributions to debates about technology and science policy

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