Science in a Real-World Context: Constructing Knowledge through Recursive Learning
Gross, Matthias, Krohn, Wolfgang, Philosophy Today
The experimental method is a most powerful means of the empirical sciences that combines the theory-based asking of questions with the readiness to register surprises. From the days of Galileo (1564-1642) and Francis Bacon (1561-1626) various models have conceptualized the tension between doing something with nature and observing it, between deductive reasoning and inductive experience, between modeling artificial set-ups and being in complex environments, between control and understanding. For a long time, the philosophy of science made experimentation subservient to theory. Recent studies from history (Gooding, 1990), sociology (Pickering, 1995), and the philosophy of science (Hacking, 1983 ; Rheinberger, 1997) have strongly modified this view. It is now widely accepted that experimentation has a living space of its own with strikingly different relations to conceptual work in various fields of research. But in each case the tension that the experimental method constitutes between intervening into reality and understanding it is what makes experimentation an uniquely powerful learning strategy, even if the tension itself is still open to philosophical reflection.
If it is so successful, why then is it restricted to the artificial world of the laboratory? Obviously, because the method is paved with surprises, failures, errors, and exceptions that people most likely do not want to experience in real life. The institutional set-up of the laboratory confines all outcomes to a special world, making it easy to start anew if something bad happens. If new knowledge is achieved, the costs of trial and error can quickly be forgotten. But mistakes imply no dangers for anyone in real life. No one except the "mad scientist" movie star would accept the risks associated with this kind of knowledge production. The laboratory symbolizes an exclusive social reality where these risks are welcome. For nature too, the laboratory provides a degree of control, of boundary and initial conditions, of the instrumentation of observation and measurement of effects, so that the causal analysis of surprises can be much better accounted for than those experienced in nature at large.
It would be pointless to deny these social and epistemic advantages of laboratory science. But the argument can be made that these advantages are achieved by ideals of constraint, abstraction, simplicity, and purity at odds with the course of nature and society. Moreover, these ideals have given rise to a world-view that interprets the space, time, things, and people of the world as faint approximations of the abstractions that make up the laboratory world. Philosophers of science have only started to deconstruct this worldview (cf. Cartwright 1999; Frodeman, 2003).
Contemporary society increasingly faces research strategies that, despite their experimental features, cannot be restricted to the special world of the laboratory. Release experiments with genetically modified organisms, which are paradoxical in character, are a good example. The question as to whether the risks of releasing GMOs are acceptable can only be answered by releasing them. Even if small scale and simulation studies serve to restrict the risks, they eventually can only serve to sharpen the hypotheses surrounding experimental action in the open field. (For an interesting example see Levidov, 2003.) An even more extreme case occurs with the analysis of high-risk technologies such as nuclear power plants. They are built and run according to carefully developed safety measures and security plans. But whether or not these cover all relevant factors of potential technological and organizational malfunctioning is an open question, to be answered only by putting the installations into operation (Krohn and Weingart, 1987; Weyer 1994). An almost opposite ensemble of cases can be made of landfills. These have been built more or less carelessly, with the only goal being to get rid of waste as cheaply as possible, only to discover that they are "wild bio-chemical reactors" (expert opinion) nobody can control. Landfills have turned out to be unwillingly installed experimental stations to which only later hypothetical reasoning was attached (Krohn, 2003).
These and other cases provide evidence that despite the risks of real world experimentation-partly deliberately and partly unwillingly-the experimental method has spread throughout society, leaving behind the restrictions of the laboratory. Whether the cases are taken to be acceptable or not depends on a variety of factors we can only mention in passing: information, voluntarism, fair distribution of costs and benefits, availability of alternatives, and so on. A philosophy of science that seriously considers this societal character of experimental learning faces an important task in developing a framework for keeping in balance scientific knowledge production and social change.
The cases so far mentioned suggest that experimentation beyond the laboratory is a recent phenomenon. In the following we want to propose that there is a much older and more deeply rooted understanding of the social character of modern science. We have selected a set of epistemological positions that will allow us to think through the idea of experimentation in society by highlighting different aspects. The selection is guided by a formula which J. W. von Goethe (1749-1832) chose as the title for one of his essays on natural philosophy: "The experiment as mediator between subject and object." We want to give it a more general reading than Goethe did. There are various ways in which experimentation can be defined as a relation between those who experiment and the reality experimented upon. The laboratory view is that the experiment neither effects the experimenter nor reality, but when the job is done becomes part of history. Alternative views take into account that the experimenter as subject is also subjected to change exerted by the experiment, and that reality does not remain the same after having been treated by instrumental processing.
The following sections outline some of the positions developed. They shall escort us to a richer understanding of real-world experimentation as a way of changing and designing society and nature. They should also demonstrate the relevance of the enduring value of creative engagement with historical writings in the fields of philosophy and sociology of science.
Experimentation Institutionalized: The Baconian Contract
Our first reference is to Francis Bacon who was the first philosopher to reflect upon the relation of the experimental method and society. He was also influential in the formation of the Cartesian world view, which distinguished the experimenter's realm from the world of objects experimented upon and privileged human (rational) beings as masters of the world to which they essentially do not belong.
Bacon's most provocative proposal was the idea that approval of the experimental method in philosophy and science would turn society itself into an experiment. Aftertrying in vain to use his position in the highest administrative ranks of the British Empire to advance the new science by either political resolution or noble patronage, he resorted to publicity: "I turn to men; to whom I have certain salutary admonitions to offer and certain fair requests to make" (Great Instauration, preface, paragraph 5). Among the requests is "to join in consultation for the common good" (paragraph 6). Later, having pondered the pros and cons of the new experimental method, he declares: "Lastly, even if the breath of hope ... were fainter than it is and harder to perceive; yet the trial (if we would not bear a spirit altogether abject) must by all means be made" (Novum Organum, I, 114). In the Latin original: "experiendum esse."
Society should give the experimental method an experimental chance. The promises of gains cannot be justified by anticipatory argument, but only by practicing the new method. Those who are reluctant are invited to consider the deal in terms of a risk assessment: "For there is no comparison between that which we may lose by not trying and by not succeeding; since by not trying we throw away the chance of an immense good: by not succeeding we only incur the loss of a little human labor. But... it appears to me ... that there is hope enough and to spare, not only to make a bold man try [ad experiendum], but also to make a sober-minded and wise man believe" (Novum Organum, I, 114). Bacon's remarkable insight into the societal risks of politically authorizing the experimental method of science is associated with a set of institutional conditions and epistemological axioms. These are:
* The potential harm of new knowledge is concealed from society, because science is performed by a fraternity of insiders who have taken an oath to secrecy until the usefulness of new knowledge and technology is approved by experts ["And this we do also: we have consultations, which of the inventions and experiences which we have discovered shall be published, and which not; and take all an oath of secrecy, for the concealing of those which we think fit to keep secret" (New Atlantis III, 264)].
* Experimental failure as well as errors of hypothetical reasoning are acceptable because they affect only the internal discourse of science, not its social environment. Society is excluded from the practice of science. Being internal to science, failure and error are considered harmless or valuable. Mistakes in the laboratory can be easily corrected (Novum Organum, II, Aphorism XX).
* Scientific results have the form of effects, which can-if properly understood-be "superinduced" into many objects of the material world (e.g. magnetism, color). Natural laws are considered to be dispositions for action (Novum Organum, II, Aphorism IV).
* An experimenter is not part of the experiment. He or she changes objects without being changed.
These conditions of accepting experimental science became institutionalized in the founding charters of scientific academies and societies, and they became components of the dominant ideology for supporting scientific progress. They formed what has come to be called the contract between science and society (Gibbons et al., 1994) and between society and nature (Serres, 1995).
This is a remarkable construction. There is no other functional field in society-neither politics, nor economy, nor the legal system, not to mention arts, education, or religionwhere a comparable type of action on a trial basis is institutionally defined. We still largely believe in and live with this contractual scheme. Yet its problematic implications with respect to our attitudes toward and action against nature are well known and are in need of revision, as Goethe was already able to realize.
Goethe and the Experimenter's Self
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as author and naturalist researcher, calls this concept of distance and domination into question and develops a view of experimentation commonly paved by contributions from both sides. Goethe is, of course, best known for his drama Faust, which portrays an experimental seeker of truth with quite a different character than the Baconian scientists. Dr. Faustus was devoted to science with all his worldly life and his eternal soul. Faustus not only performed experiments but also lived an experimental life, including all the risks that the Baconian contract had restricted to the special world of the laboratory. Faustus conducted a real-life experiment driven by an unlimited will to knowledge, ready to face every experience offered to him on the basis of the Mephistophelean contract. He was absolutely convinced that facing the evidence of truth would be something very different from the possession of some prepositional knowledge able to be traded to others. If his endeavor is still considered to be research, it is in almost every respect a counter-paradigm to the Baconian idea of doing science.
Surely Goethe was not Faust, whatever Faustian traits may have driven him. Historians of science acknowledge Goethe as a rather distinguished researcher of his own in various fields-theory of color, geology, botany, and anatomy. Yet there are relations between his fictional character and his philosophy of experimental science. When Goethe's controversy with the Newtonian standard model of color reached its first peak, he wrote a small essay, The Experiment as Mediator Between Object and Subject (1988, originally written in 1792-1793).
Its basic idea is that experimentation is a mutual process of shaping the observer and the observed field of study. Shaping the observed field means generating phenomena dependent on conditions set by the experimenter. Shaping observers means letting their experiences expand their skills of doing and seeing. Experimentation is a continuous practice of expanding both the phenomena and our understanding of their similarities and dissimilarities (Krohn, 1998).
Whereas the Baconian laboratory reflects a view of nature where materials and effects can be isolated, stored, and used at will for various purposes, the Goethean field-laboratory reflects the following view: "As everything in nature, especially the general powers and elements are in everlasting effect and counter effect, it can be said of every phenomenon that it relates to innumerable others just as a free gliding point of light is said to emit its rays into every direction" (HA, vol 13, 17f.). Goethe's message is by no means meant to guard natural phenomena from the artifacts of experimentation, but to expand one's own experience of the phenomenal world by means of experiment. It is this mutual expansion of phenomena made visible and the lived experience of the researcher that makes experimentation a mediating operation. "Have we performed an experiment ... we cannot carefully enough investigate what immediately borders on it.... The diversification of every single experiment is the natural scientist's essential duty" (HA, XIII, 18).
Goethe was convinced that the standard method of testing ideas by experiment was a dangerous invitation to exert human power over nature and to dominate, instead of develop a process of mutual impact. A final quote shows how Goethe was willing to use the Baconian terminology of power, victory, and defeat, but to use it in a symmetrical way and thereby abandon it:
If someone trained in vivacious observation begins to struggle with nature, he first feels the tremendous desire/drive to conquer things. It does not last long, however, so that they force their way into him so brutally, that he feels well how much reason there is Io acknowledge their power and to adore/admire their impact. Having realized this mutual influence he shall become aware of a double infinity: with respect to the objects the manifold of being and becoming and the vivacious crossover of their relations, with respect to himself the potential of infinite formation (Ausbildung) by skillfully developing his susceptibility as well as his judgment to ever new forms of accommodation and counteraction. (HA XIII, p. 53; Morphology, Apologies of the work)
The interpretation of the experiment as a process of mutual forming of subject and object conveys concepts developed in the eighteenth century. These concepts were developed to link biological processes of self-organization to humanists' concepts of education as a process of instructed self-formation. To listen carefully to nature's instructions is as important as guiding her to exhibit further phenomena.
Goethe developed his conception more or less as a defensive position against what he considered to be the monopolistic Newtonian school. Rather than directing it against physics, it might be more appropriate to take it as an alternative model of experimental practice fruitful in non-laboratory fields of research. Bryson (2002) has traced back a similar notion of experiment to Henry Thoreau's sojourn to Walden Pond, and the polar scientist Richard Evelyn Byrd conducted important research on Ross Ice Barrier in Antarctica in the 193Os on a related basis of understanding the experiment (Gross, 2003b, 96-97).
Liebig's Experimentation with Natural Cycles
The chemist Justus von Liebig (18031873) was among the first to deal with the ecological problems arising from modernization. Problems of urbanization and industrialization prodded him to reconsider the society-nature relationship from a scientific perspective.
Liebig was famous for several activities: founder of the first academic chemistry laboratory, founder of agricultural chemistry and inventor of artificial fertilizer, editor of the leading journal of chemistry, extremely successful in popularizing chemistry, and influential in shaping the university training of chemical professionals. His early career brought him fame as one of the most distinguished experimentalists in organic chemistry, while his students spread all over the world to establish chemistry-based industries.
Later he developed a view of nature that turned his experimental work toward an investigation of the cyclical reproduction of life. This was, of course, a philosophical paradigm with a long tradition. But only Liebig was the first to turn the paradigm into a chemical research program. The aim was to analyze the conditions of life without reference to mysterious factors such as the vital force or formative drive.
Liebig investigated life dynamics on diverse levels. The most basic was to experimentally reconstruct how organic substances carried out chemical synthesis. Following the famous first synthesis of uric acid by Friedrich Wöhler in 1828, it was assumed that all organic substances could be reproduced artificially. At a second level, it was necessary to understand how the equilibrium of plant and animal life is maintained over time and under changing nutrient conditions. On yet another level, organic chemists began to analyze how different species of plants and animals interact to maintain their environments. Finally, the same question was addressed in terms of the stability of world climate. The result was a grand theory of eco-equilibrium-that was also an attempt to build a chemical imperialism, ending traditional agricultural and farming research, and trying to suppress emerging work in microbiology, whose most important exponent, Louis Pasteur, was an equally strong player of politics in science (Krohn and Schafer, 1982).
The introduction of Liebig's famous Chemistry in its Application to Agriculture and Physiology (1840) states:
Our present research in natural history proceeds from the conviction that laws of interaction not only exist among two or three, but rather among all phenomena which in the realm of minerals, plants, and animals condition life on the surface of the earth. Thus none of them is separate but at all times joined to one or several others, all of them linked together without beginning and without end. The sequence of these phenomena, their origins and their departures, may be compared to the tidal movement within a cycle. (1840, 87)
The point is that individual experiments have value only with respect to their function in the comprehensive study of life on earth, which by no means can be reduced to the confines of the laboratory.
While tackling the significant question of whether carbohydrates can be converted into fats, Liebig took the opportunity to rebuke the poor state of experimentation in animal physiology:
Without being acquainted with the conditions or even asking whether such conditions exist they first of all exclude everything which would make it possible to answer the question. The animals are put into a state of artificially induced disease, deprived of all nourishment; . . . they exclude all those matters that play a part in ... the sustenance of vital functions acting on fat formation. They then believe that these miserable and cruel experiments have furnished proof. . . . These experiments serve only to prove the ignorance and total incapacity of these experimenters to offer a solution to such questions. (1944,40-41)
What is significant here is that insofar as organic chemical experimentation is determined by the concept of the cycles of the elementary components of plants, animals, soils, and the atmosphere, it must be guided by a scientific view that encompasses this real world. Given the fact that Liebig was famous for his inventive capacity as an experimenter and for his stubborn chemical reductionism, this attempt to determine the laboratory world in terms of its global environment was a remarkable shift.
Liebig impressed his contemporaries not only with this early view of a science-based ecology, but also with his discussion about the natural conditions of the history and future of culture. All in all, his move into agricultural chemistry had the goal of providing industrial society with a safe and sustainable basis of nutrition. Liebig deeply influenced Karl Marx (1818-1883) with his warnings against ruinous exploitation effected by economically orientated farming. While Liebig believed that would rationalize agricultural industry, Marx did not think society would be able to control a process in which capital is determined to accumulate on an ever-increasing basis.
Both Liebig and Marx wanted to demonstrate the importance of nature for society and to base their recommendations for societal change on science. The basic message of artificial fertilizer is that only a comprehensive understanding of the chemistry of the world enables us to introduce technologies with predictable and controllable effects. By and large, Liebig was mistaken in his own time, and as genetic engineering promises the even larger scale techno-scientific planning of agriculture and the environment, such a program is no less doubtful. Yet it is the sort of real world experimentation that liebig proposed from which lessons about the complexity and indeterminate non-linear dynamics of nature are learned.
The argument so far thus draws attention to the fact that the Baconian contract, despite its institutional and epistemic power, was always interspersed with different types of scientific endeavors. This began with Bacon's own view on the contract itself as triggering societal progress into an unknown future. Allowing for experimentation even under well described institutional conditions implies unpredictable consequences. There are reasonable expectations. But they are, after all, of a hypothetical character. The acceptance of scientific experimentation, even if restricted to the laboratory, gives society an experimental turn. It is the present situation that makes this historical reading of Bacon interesting.
To summarize: Establishment of the institutional and epistemic distances between the laboratory world and its societal, personal, and natural environments is a deeply rooted and powerful myth. However, this myth has both been questioned (Goethe) and reformulated (Liebig), and cannot be the guideline for science as it is embedded in the developing knowledge society.
We turn to the social sciences, which offer a still different view of experimentation, as they have been forced from the very beginning to bring together experimental trials and changes of individual lives and social structures. It is unavoidable that experimentation in the social sciences is embedded in the real-world.
Early Attempts at an Experimental Public Social Science
From its early institutionalization, American social science sociologists developed a perspective that, on one hand, adopted the terminology and methodology of the natural sciences while, on the other, viewed social settings, the city, and even the evolving society as "laboratories." The metaphor has been in use at least since the creation of the Department of Sociology at the founding of University of Chicago in 1892. When the University was established, it was believed that there was considerable potential for social research to provide insights that would offer guidance for society. The idea of the city of Chicago as a social laboratory par excellence was one of the key suggestions of the first professor of the Department, Albion W. Small (1854-1926). The idea can be followed in the first American textbook of sociology, a monograph entitled An Introduction to the Study of Society (1894), which Small co-authored with George E. Vincent. In the introduction Small and Vincent described their book bluntly as a "laboratory guide" to studying people in their "every-day occupations" (1894, 15). Small and Vincent indeed believed that their "book is to be compared with laboratory guides in biology" (17). It was meant to outline a method through which students could study the experiments going on in society with "units" describing procedures for specific experiments or observations. This also included ready-made experiments, or experiments that were "set up" by others. Small and Vincent, along with other sociologists, believed that sociological research should be understood as taking place inside a social laboratory. To Small every outcome of a social process is based on an experiment. In an article on "the future of sociology" Small stated:
All life is experimentation. Every spontaneous or voluntary association is an experiment. Every conscious or unconscious acquiescence in a habit is an experiment. . . . Each civilization in the world today, each mode of living side by side within or in between the several civilizations is an experiment.... All the laboratories in the world could not carry on enough experiments to measure a thimbleful compared with the world of experimentation open to the observation of social science. The radical difference is that the laboratory scientists can arrange their own experiments while we social scientists for the most part have our experiments arranged for us. (Small, 1921, 187-88)
This strong statement that all social life is exposed to experimental settings and engaged in experimental performances needs qualification, since viewing all purposeful action as bound to risks of trial and error would not provide a conceptual basis for a new method of experimental sociology. As Ernest Greenwood (1976) has argued, the hit-or-miss or the trialand-error conception of experiment is quite inadequate as a scientific method. In fact, without qualifications, even the distinction between biological and social action easily becomes blurred. Still, Small's attempt at founding the idea of experimentation not in scientific method but in social life-and thereby importing the experimental conditions from the object under study into the method of the sociological observer-is a remarkable move, even if it cries out for a more precise specification of the societal and cultural conditions that give social life its experimental characteristics.
The notion of society as a laboratory was first applied to all social settlements, but later mainly used with reference to cities (see Deegan, 1988; Park, 1929). Other Chicago social scientists working in areas of social work and public policy, like Charles Henderson, used the term sociological laboratory to indicate the mixture of social settlements and sociological research as a unified part of the progressive development of society. According to Mary Jo Deegan (1988), the improvement of settlements was associated with social work, at that time undertaken mainly by women, and the detached observer ideal of the sociologists was the male perspective on the social laboratory. Notwithstanding such a debatable comparison, for both women and men the sociological production of knowledge went hand in hand with social reform. For instance, the application of newly acquired knowledge to society and the design of strategies that would feed knowledge directly back into society, was practiced in studies on deviance, on social insurance, on alleviation of unemployment, and on the study of the impact of immigrants on social change (e.g. Addams, 1970; Henderson, 1898; Lathrop, 1894; Small and Vincent, 1894). It is this recursive process between knowledge-informed strategic action or institutional planning and methodically guided observation of practical development that gives the approach of Small an operational interpretation. It is society that runs the experiment, but sociology can be influential in setting the conditions. The prospects of reform as well as the dangers of technocratic control implied in this approach are obvious.
Jane Addams (1860-1935) exemplified the spirit of this view of research practice in society. Addams, who won worldwide recognition in the first third of the twentieth century as a pioneer social worker, in 1889 leased a large home originally built by Charles Hull together with her friend Ellen G. Starr. The two women moved in. Hull House was planned to become a settlement house like Toynbee Hall in the slums of London, which Addams had visited a few years before. In the prefatory note to a collection of articles on Hull-House Maps and Papers, Addams stated that the primary ideal of the first social settlement in Chicago was that a group of university men should reside in the poorer quarter for the sake of informing and influencing the people there toward better local government and a wider social and intellectual life (Addams, 1970, vii-viii.) (For a general appraisal of settlement sociology between the 188Os and the 1930s see Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley, 2002).
To be fair, fifteen years later Addams confessed that she objected to the phrase "sociological laboratory," because "settlements should be something much more human and spontaneous than such a phrase connotes" (Addams, 1967, 309). In like manner, Charles Henderson remarked that the people working in social settlements "very naturally resent the notion that a Settlement is a 'laboratory' where inquisitive investigators may pursue methods of vivisection and torture, in order to illustrate or test sociological theories" (Henderson, 1899, 183). Although Henderson understands this objection and calls it just, he nevertheless believes that exact science in settlement work is important. He repeatedly points out that the best scientific work is done by those who actually participate and work in the settlements themselves, since "science and sentiment are not enemies, but comrades" (184). In this vein also Addams, in almost every chapter of the Hull-House volume, talks about experiments when referring to projects at Hull-House as well as to other activities connected with social settlements. The list ranges from experiments with different soft drinks as a substitute for alcohol to the general idea of "cooperative experiments" when referring to teamwork with other city groups and institutions.
It thus seems that experiment for Addams also meant something that was not necessarily to take place in a "scientific" and detached laboratory. However, it also did not mean that every social action or any moment in which a change had been effected was an experiment. Experimentation in society, so Addams and others implicitly suggest, always includes an expected element of uncertainty that cannot be fully eliminated by planning. In fact, it should not. The multiple dimensions of human wellbeing make what we have called the "experimental system" so complex that any attempt to describe it completely, let alone to predict its course of development, would be illusory. Or to reverse the argument: People are not subject to experiments but actively participate in them. It is the people who test theoretical assumptions about social life under realistic conditions, which are to a certain degree controllable.
Addams' idea of different Hull-House projects as experiments also acknowledged the existence of certain boundary conditions or the controlled variation of parameters. Indeed, this has elements of an understanding of experiment as a reform process, a notion embraced prominently by Donald Campbell (1969) at a later date (see also Cook and Campbell 1979). Hence in this tradition social processes are increasingly understood as experiments in coping with the structural complexity and the unpredictable dynamics of modern social city life conducted by society on itself. Sociologists can thus be conceived as detached and objective scientists who deliver objective knowledge and also as practitioners who almost simultaneously feed knowledge back into society to improve social conditions. This means that experimentation in society, as understood by the Chicago sociologists around 1900, allows the direct application of sociological knowledge to settlements, which in turn feeds back data for the analysis of society, and thus transforms this process into a sociological experiment. Furthermore, it places the observing sociologist in the midst of the experiment itself.
Science in the City: Robert Park's Foundation of Urban Sociology
Taking up the notion of experiment embraced by the early founders of the discipline, Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess in their influential textbook Introduction to the Science of Sociology (Park and Burgess, 1972) along with other writings by Park, marshaled the early Chicago ideas of proto-participant observation into a widely respected research program. According to Park, the city was to be treated as a social laboratory. The concept would include the walls, the houses, tools, buildings, and circulating things (Park, 1915). In this approach, all parts of the environment are interdependent and moved by individual, collective, and ecological forces (see Park, 1915; 1925a; 1925b; 1929; 1936; and 1939). In order to understand the chaotic development of the great cities it was, as Park later termed it, "the natural areas" that should be investigated. The natural area describes a unit of investigation as distinguished from the "artificially" defined cultural or political area:
A region is called a "natural area" because it comes into existence without design, and performs a function, as in the case of the slum, that may be contrary to anybody's desire. It is a natural area because it has a natural history. (Park, 1929, 9)
Every city, argued Park, has such segregated areas in the forms of business districts, dwellings, satellite cities, slums, and certain immigration belts. For Park, planning in society is an attempt to direct the ecological basis of society. But this is not as easy as it seems. He wrote:
Cities are always getting out of hand. The actual plan of the city is never a mere artifact, it is always quite as much a product of nature as of design. (Park, 1925a, 674)
Harvey Zorbaugh, one of Park's students, also observed:
The city is curiously resistant to the fiats of man. Like the robot, created by man, it goes its own way indifferent to the will of its creator. Reformers have stormed, the avaricious have speculated, and thoughtful have planned. But again and again their programs have met with obstacles. Human nature offers some opposition; traditions and institutions offer more; and-of especial significance-the very physical configuration of the city is unyielding to change. (Zorbaugh, 1926, 188)
In the understanding of the Chicago school of sociology the modern city and thus modern society in general were in part natural phenomena. There is human nature and there is the physical environment that works together or against human culture. In thus pointing out the "natural" side in this understanding of the city, Park, Zorbaugh, and others are simply calling special attention to the internal dynamics of modern society, which result from modern means of planning and production. Every plan humans set out is actually tested within their own society. Humans make natural areas, but their dynamics appear to be "natural." Quite often, it is a society radicalized against the paths and categories of their own planning. This, in turn, tells the observing sociologist something about society.
In this approach the societal dynamic is always perceived in terms of its dependency on the material environment (Gross 2004). In the chaotic city-jungle the unity of research was what Park termed the "natural area." Natural areas can be regarded as poles of order in an otherwise disordered world. What complexity theorists today call islands of stability in a sea of disorder is, in a certain sense, identical to what the sociologists of the Chicago School would have said about their natural urban areas: areas of temporary, and always uncertain, stability. Changes that "tend to have the character of something that is at least indigenous to the situation and the society in which it exists" (Park, 1939, 8) may evolve.
Park thus incorporated both the natural and the cultural into his view of the city as a laboratory. In this context he often stressed the complexity and complication of social relations, while stressing how this offered new possibilities, especially in cities (e.g., 1915,608). This, for Park, is that "which justifies the view that would make the city a laboratory or a clinic in which human nature and social processes may be most conveniently and profitably studied" (1915, 612). In the revised version of his classic piece, "The City," Park stated that "the city, especially the great city, in which more than elsewhere human relations are likely to be impersonal and rational ... is in a very real sense a laboratory for the investigation of collective behavior" (Park, 1925b, 31). In terms of Park's perceptions, the development of the city and of society at large can thus be understood as associated with processes that "experimentally" result in a better understanding of how society "works."
In Chicago: An Experiment in Social Science Research (1929), the editors Thomas Smith and Leslie White gathered twelve articles on the research done in the city of Chicago. The lead article was Park's "The City as a Social Laboratory," where he again described the city as "the natural habitat of civilized man." The city represents the most consistent and successful attempt to remake the world in which people live. However:
If the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself. It is in some such sense and in some such connection as this that we may think of the city as a social laboratory. (Park, 1929, 1)
Since the city "magnifies, spreads out, and advertises human nature in all its various manifestations" it is "of all places the one in which to discover the secrets of human hearts, and to study human nature and society" (19). In the preface to NeIs Anderson's monograph The Hobo, Park stated: "If it is true that man made the city, it is quite as true that the city is now making man" (Park, 1923, v). For Park, sociology is on its way to becoming "an experimental science," just as he had previously argued that:
experiments are going on in every field of social life, in industry, in politics, and in religion. In all these fields men are guidedby some implicit or explicit theory of the situation, but this theory is not often stated in the form of a hypothesis and subjected to a test of the negative instances. (In Park and Burgess, 1921, 45; emphasis added)
Here Park elaborates the idea of Small's that society itself is operative in designing social experiments. Again, for Park the city is the most prominent place for creating and supporting the experimental spirit. But if experimentation is to mean more than simple trial and error, theory and design of action must be taken seriously. It is this move that gives Park's reflection upon real life experiments performed in all fields of society a further boost.
In order to gain from these experiments, Park's idea is that "the practical sociologist must have the ability to enter into the inner life and share the feelings and sentiments of all sorts of people." And he continues, "The method to which I refer is the intensive study of the typical and individual" (Park, 1913, 167f.). For Park, implicitly, an experimental method in sociology would have to be understood as a way of getting inside group behavior, of generating data in "naturally" occurring contexts and allowing interpretive social scientists to get as close as possible to their subject matter. What Park contended was that modern society had turned itself into a place that could be understood as the laboratory for investigating sociologists. With this type of experiment going on, the sociologist as experimenter was bound to participate in complex networks of actors imbedded in institutional and natural environments they could not completely control. Even less could they be controlled by sociology.
A scientific observer of society has to participate in the experiment that society is undertaking on itself. What distinguished Park's ideas from those of an earlier generation was belief in the existence of an organized research process and reform in step with evolutionary changes that identified the place of sociology in society. In Park's and his colleagues' view, the application of newly gained sociological knowledge is in turn able to tell the observing sociologist something about the fundamentals of society. From this perspective the production of social scientific knowledge and its application in society are recursively inter-dependant and cannot be treated as if they were detached from one another. Sociology is thus part of the experiment, since sociology has always been and always must be a part of that reality it seeks to explain. This radical view provides a basis for certain aspects of a new philosophy of science policy.
Outlook: Science Policy and Real-World Experimentation
Sociologists' conditions for doing research in society are quite different from those of natural scientists in the laboratory. But their position is not an isolated one. Many fields of research in the social, political, economic, psychological, educational, environmental, health, and other sciences share the features of practical involvement in the changes they undertake, influence, and monitor-but not initiate and control at will. Given the fact that these fields of research not only increase, but become ever more important constituent parts of societal change, the question arises as to whether their epistemological self-understanding is in need of being replaced by one more appropriate to this involvement. The strength of the laboratory sciences cannot be doubted as long as their rights to determine their artificial realities are taken for granted. Their weaknesses are revealed as soon as knowledge gained under these special conditions is applied to the complex natural and social reality in which we live. The strength of the "embedded" sciences is to define research as part of this complex world, and knowledge production as an element of change. But this strength can only be played out when the weaknesses with respect to the power of definition and control are accounted for. One way to do so is to take real-world experimentation seriously.
Donald Campbell (1969) tried to bind together a policy of social reform with a new evolutionary epistemology of science on the basis of social experimentation. He had two points of departure. On the one hand, reform projects on all levels of a rapidly changing society are urgent and cannot be postponed until every detail of future planning has been precisely predicted. Inaction is a form of action. If political leadership waits for the ultimate scientific truth, then it misuses science as a source for political (non-)action. If, on the other hand, scientists propose to deliver reliable knowledge in those complex fields of societal change, they grossly overestimate their competence. The way out of the dilemma is a mutually agreed upon strategy of experimental learning. Recent attempts in ecological design projects, which can be seen as carrying forward the methods discussed above in new fields, deal with the problem of not knowing before the experiment whether the social and ecological risks are acceptable (see e.g., Gobster, 2001; Gross, 2003a; HoffmannRiem, 2003).
Negotiations take place between different stakeholders and "citizen scientists" who participate as fully valued actors with respect to goals and the management of surprises stemming both from social and natural systems. In order to take such a procedure seriously, learning must be recursive, since knowledge application is part of the discovery process. The contextual application of science aims at the implementation of "experiments in the real world." Oftentimes experiments lead to surprises, which cause trouble and provide opportunities for learning. Such endeavors render obsolete the ideal of science as a detached and austere form of knowledge production and replace it with a recursive learning process in which science listens both to different interests and unexpected natural activities. Knowledge production in the real world beyond the laboratory must be able to embed the learning process in such a way that surprises can be absorbed with fewer problems than in traditional management strategies.
As real-world experiments are often part of the public's everyday life, the involvement of the public can deliver a more robust legitimation basis. Experts are increasingly forced to open the borders and risks of theoretical models, which reduces the extent of disappointments and increases the readiness to learn from earlier mistakes. For example, restoration projects (see Gobster, 2001; Gobster and Barro, 2000; Gross, 2003a; Jordan, 2003) have proven that time-consuming hearings, volunteer group organizations, and stakeholder involvement have, in the long run, been more successful than previous projects. Original project designs have been repeatedly refined and specified as local ecological and social realities are taken into account. Perhaps future science policy should no longer focus on the boundary between science in the laboratory and the non-scientific application of results in the real world, but rather on the problem solving capacities of "embedded science" with its features of recursive learning and social robustness. Unlike Michael Gibbons et al. (1994), who introduced the term "robust knowledge" (see also Nowotny et al., 2001, 168), we do not believe that the notion of robustness is a well chosen qualification of a new kind of knowledge. Rather, robustness specifies research strategies that account for local contexts, integrate heterogeneous actors, expect surprises, and adjust by collective learning. Social robustness attempts to compensate rather than accommodate uncertainty of knowledge and risks of application.
There are reservations to be made. There can be little doubt that political and scientific strategies founded on the principle of recursive learning usually face poor prospects. Politicians who display such flexibility in terms of means and ends rarely survive the criticism of opponents, the media, and interest groups. Scientists, who promise to gain the knowledge needed for solving urgent problems by trying and learning, face similar criticism. Apparently, the idea of generating robustness of knowledge by initiating processes of collective learning is a lost cause when the received alternative of doing laboratory research and waiting for reliable results is available. Especially with respect to reducing hazardous risks the advantages of laboratory research are badly needed. If, however, knowledge in complex fields of action can only be achieved by a collective and experimental strategy of learning, then a change in the underlying philosophy of science policy is required.
The shift may be as fundamental as the Baconian turn toward institutionalized laboratory science. Bacon proposed that public acceptance of the experimental method in laboratory research would be a societal experiment that politics should try out. A new philosophy of science policy can lay the foundations for the public acceptance of collective learning processes within the framework of real-world experimentation. It would aim at formulating a new contract between science and society that makes science more public and members of the public more ready to engage in knowledge production relevant to shaping their lives, communities, and environments.
Addams, Jane. (1970 ) "Prefatory Note," in Jane Addams, Hull-House Maps and Papers: Residents of Hull-House (New York: Arno Press), vii-viii.
Addams, Jane. (1967 [1910) Twenty Years at Hull-House (with Autobiographical Notes). New York: Macmillan.
Anderson, Nels. (1923) The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bryson, Michael A. (2002) Visions of the Land: Science, Literature, and the American Environment from the Era of Exploration to the Age of Ecology. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
Campbell, Donald T. (1969) "Reforms as Experiments," American Psychologist 24, no.4: 409-29.
Cartwright, Nancy. (1999) The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cook, Thomas D., and Donald T. Campbell. (1979) Quasi-Experimentation: Design and Analysis Issues for Field Settings. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Deegan, Mary Jo. (1988) Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Frodeman, Robert. (2003) Geo-Logic: Breaking Ground between Philosophy and the Earth Sciences. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. (1988) "The Experiment as Mediator between Object and Subject," in Douglas Miller, ed., Goethe: The Collected Works-Scientific Studies, vol. 12 (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 11-17.
Gibbons, Michael, Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott, and Martin Trow. (1994) The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies. London: Sage.
Gobster, Paul H. (2001) "Visions of Nature: Conflict and Compatibility in Urban Park Restoration," Landscape and Urban Planning 56, nos. 1-2: 35-51.
Gobster, Paul H., and Susan C. Barro. (2000) "Negotiating Nature: Making Restoration Happen in an Urban Park Context," in Paul H. Gobster and Bruce Hull, eds., Restoring Nature: Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities (Covelo,CA: Island Press), 185-207.
Gooding, David. (1990) Experiment and the Making of Meaning: Human Agency in Scientific Observation and Experiment. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Greenwood, Ernest. (1976 ) Experimental Sociology: A Study in Method. New York: Octagon Books.
Gross, Matthias. (2003a) Inventing Nature: Ecological Restoration by Public Experiments. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield/Lexington Books.
Gross, Matthias. (2003b) "Caught Between the Nature/ Society Divide: Environmental History at a Crossroads," History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 25: 93-107.
Gross, Matthias. (2004) "Human Geography and Ecologiccal Sociology: The Unfolding of a Human Ecology, 1890 to 1930- and Beyond," Social Science History 28, no. 4: 575-605.
Hacking, Ian. (1983) Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Henderson, Charles R. (1899) Social Settlements. New York: Lentilhon.
Hoffmann-Riem, Holger. (2003) Die Sanierung des Sempachersees: Eine Fallstudie iiber okologische Lernprozesse. Munich: Ôkom Verlag.
Jordan, William R., III. (2003) The Sunflower Forest: Ecological Restoration and the New Communion with Nature. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Krohn, Wolfgang, and Wolf Schafer. (1982) "Agricultural Chemistry: A Goal-Oriented Science," in Barry Barnes and David Edge, eds., Science in Context: Readings in the Sociology of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 187-95.
Krohn, Wolfgang, and Peter Weingart. (1987) "Nuclear Power as a Social Experiment - European Political 'Fall Out' from the Chernobyl Meltdown," Science, Technology and Human Values 12, no. 2: 52-58.
Krohn, Wolfgang. (1998) "Goethes Versuch iiber den Versuch," in Peter Matussek, ed., Goethe und die Verzeitlichung derNatur (München: Beck), 399-414.
Krohn, Wolfgang. (2003) "Waste Sites as Experiments: Producing Knowledge about Waster," paper presented at the Conference on New Directions in Interdisciplinary Research, Pennsylvania State University, October. Available online: http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/iwt/ realworld.
Lathrop, Julia C. (1894) "Discussion: Hull-House as a Laboratory of Sociological Investigation," Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities 21, 313-20.
Lengermann, Patricia M., and Jill Niebrugge-Brantley. (2002) "Back to the Future: Settlement Sociology, 1885-1930," American Sociologist 33, no. 3: 5-20.
Levidow, Les. (2003) "Precautionary Risk Assessment of Bt Maize: What Uncertainties?" Journal of Insect Pathology 83, no. 2: 113-17.
Liebig, Justus von. (1840) Die organische Chemie in ihrer Anwendung auf Agricultur und Physiologie. Braunschweig: Vieweg.
Liebig, Justus von. (1944) Bemerkungen ilber das Verhaltnis der Thierchemie zur Thier-Physiologie. Heidelberg: Winter.
Nowotny, Helga, Peter Scott, and Michael Gibbons. (2001) Re- Thinking Science: Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty. Oxford: Polity Press.
Park, Robert E. (1913) "Informal Conference: Is it Possible for American Sociologists to Agree upon a Constructive Program?" Publications of the American Sociological Society 8: 167-68.
Park, Robert E. (1915) "The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the City Environment," American Journal of Sociology 20, no. 5: 577-612.
Park, Robert E. (1923) "Editor's Preface," in Nels Anderson, The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), v-viii.
Park, Robert E. (1925a) "Community Organization and the Romantic Temper," Social Forces 3, no. 4:673-77.
Park, Robert E. (1925b) "The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment," in Robert E. Park, Ernest W. Burgess, and Roderick D. McKenzie, eds., The City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1-46.
Park, Robert E. (1929) "The City as a Social Laboratory," in Thomas V. Smith and Leslie D. White, eds., Chicago: An Experiment in Social Science Research (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1-19.
Park, Robert E. (1936) "Human Ecology," American Journal of Sociology 42: 1-15.
Park, Robert E. (1939) "Symbiosis and Socialization: A Frame of Reference for the Study of Society," American Journal of Sociology 45: 1-25.
Park, Robert E., and Ernest W. Burgess. (1972 ) Introduction to the Science of Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Pickering, Andrew (1995). The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Pielke, Jr., Roger, and Daniel Sarewitz. (2002) "Wanted: Scientific Leadership on Climate," Issues in Science and Technology 19, no. 2: 27-30.
Rheinberger, Hans-Jôrg. (1997) Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Serres, Michel. (1995) The Natural Contract. Trans. Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Small, Albion W., and George E. Vincent. (1894) An Introduction to the Science of Society. New York: American Books.
Small, Albion W. (1921) "The Future of Sociology," Publications of the American Sociological Society 15:174-93.
Smith, Thomas V., and Leslie D. White, eds. (1929) Chicago: An Experiment in Social Science Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Weyer, Johannes. (1994) "Actor Networks and High Risk Technologies: The case of the Gulf War," Science and Public Policy 21, no. 5: 321-34.
Zorbaugh, Harvey W. (1926) "The Natural Areas of the City," Publications of the American Sociological Society 20: 188-97.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Science in a Real-World Context: Constructing Knowledge through Recursive Learning. Contributors: Gross, Matthias - Author, Krohn, Wolfgang - Author. Journal title: Philosophy Today. Volume: 48. Publication date: January 1, 2004. Page number: 38+. © DePaul University Fall 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.