08 May 2010

In Search of Politics in Knowledge Production

The forthcoming issue of Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Germany's premier, and recently overhauled, history of science journal, features a nice little polemic by historian of psychiatry Volker Roelcke. "In Search of Politics in Knowledge Production" perceptively laments the - by and large - absence of “the political dimension” in much recent (cultural) history of science – despite, that is, the progress rhetoric we have grown used to (local and practical turns and so on), and despite the lip-service that is frequently being paid to the formerly “external” as well. More interesting even (to readers of this blog, at any rate), Roelcke makes his case largely by way of finding the political absent in the writings of some prominent historians of brain science and cybernetics (but also, and ultimately more thought-provoking, by way of scrutinizing some seemingly pertinent analytical concepts: “co-production” and the like). This said, Roelcke’s diagnosis at times is surprisingly, and perhaps naively, confident in the optionality of enrolling the “political dimension” (or not); indeed, far less convincing are the damage-control maneuvers Roelcke proposes – they draw on a set of rather well-belaboured tool-kits, associated with the names of Latour and Rheinberger, which might themselves be accused of being implicated in this (we assume) regrettable, apolitical state of affairs. Nevertheless it’s unfortunate that the piece is available in German only; the thrust of Roelcke’s analysis, however, will hardly be news to anyone mildly irritated by the somewhat eloquent playfulness which is characteristic of the profession today, and the political evasiveness which comes along with it – one may find it indicted as well, notably, in Roger Cooter and Claudia Stein’s recent and equally commendable "Cracking Biopower" (being, ostensibly, a review of Rose’s The Politics of Life Itself).

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