States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order

By Sheila Jasanoff | Go to book overview

2

Ordering knowledge, ordering society

Sheila Jasanoff


Science in culture and politics

Science and technology account for many of the signature characteristics of contemporary societies: the uncertainty, unaccountability and speed that contribute, at the level of personal experience, to feelings of being perpetually off balance; the reduction of individuals to standard classifications that demarcate the normal from the deviant and authorize varieties of social control; the skepticism, alienation and distrust that threaten the legitimacy of public action; and the oscillation between visions of doom and visions of progress that destabilize the future. Both doing and being, whether in the high citadels of modernity or its distant outposts, play out in territories shaped by scientific and technological invention. Our methods of understanding and manipulating the world curve back and reorder our collective experience along unforeseen pathways, like the seemingly domesticated chlorofluorocarbons released from spray cans and air conditioners that silently ate away at the earth's stratospheric ozone layer. Just as environmental scientists are hard put to find on earth an ecological system that has not been affected by human activity, so it is difficult for social scientists to locate forms of human organization or behavior anywhere in the world whose structure and function have not been affected, to some extent, by science and technology.

Take culture, in particular, or more accurately cultures. Although science and technology are present everywhere, the rambunctious storyline of modernity refuses to conform to any singular narrative of enlightenment or progress. The familiar ingredients of modern life continually rearrange themselves in unpredicted patterns, creating rupture, violence and difference alongside the sense of increasing liberation, convergence and control. The terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 acted out in brutal reality and on global television screens many contradictions that were already seething below the surface. On a clear, sparkling day in early fall, nineteen young Muslim militants hijacked four civilian aircraft and rammed them into the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This was suicidal violence on a previously unimagined scale. The pyres on which the hijackers immolated themselves killed more than 3,000 innocent people who had

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