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

By Sheila Jasanoff | Go to book overview

14

Afterword

Sheila Jasanoff

The idiom of co-production, as we have argued in this volume, represents a major synthesis of scholarship in science and technology studies (S&TS). At once capturing and helping to crystallize shared orientations from a broad cross-section of the field, this interpretive framework illuminates how cognitive understandings of the world we live in are tied at many points to social means of intervening in or coping with that world. The concept of co-production thus rejects the simplifications of both social determinism and scientific or technological determinism; it sees science neither as constituted by interests alone nor as an unmediated reflection of nature. On the contrary, it presumes that knowledge and its material embodiments are products of social work and, at the same time, constitutive of forms of social life. It acknowledges that lived “reality” is made up of complex linkages among the cognitive, the material, the normative and the social - and that understanding these links is indispensable to meaningful projects of social theory and prescriptive analysis. For all these reasons, co-production offers as much traction in explicating the social dimensions of scientific and technological change as in exploring the cognitive and material bases of other powerful political and cultural configurations.

We have seen that co-productionist literature in S&TS engages with questions that are broadly speaking both metaphysical and epistemological - that is, both about the way the world is and how we find out about it. I have called the former type of work constitutive, because it speaks to the creation of fundamental ordering devices and categories; I have called the latter type interactional, because it deals with the conflicts and accommodations that arise when competing natural and social orders are brought into confrontation. In either case, what distinguishes co-productionist analysis from conventional metaphysical or epistemological inquiry is its constant rejection of a priori demarcations. Indeed, co-production blurs the very distinction between metaphysics and epistemology, showing how our knowledge of things as they are relates to earlier choices about how we wish to know things in the first place. Neither the existence of things nor our knowledge of them can be taken for granted in this framework. Rather, the object is to illuminate how particular states of knowledge come into being, what makes them persist or disappear, and how they shape and are shaped by people's deeper political and cultural, as well as cognitive and material commitments.

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