Concept Narrative


Assignment Goals

In this assignment, we will collectively construct a concept narrative. The narrative will trace the origin, migration and use of normativity as a term, an idea and a conceptual framework in, and related to, Science and Technology Studies (STS).

Our goals:

• To develop a cogent narrative that conveys the social and philosophical history of normativity in STS.

• To render and express individual judgments in relation collaborative reasoning and conclusions;

• To document publicly the collective processes of researching and communicating findings;

• To author collaboratively academic research;

• To develop collaborative practices in performing conceptual research.

Assignment Description

We tell a story of normativity in STS. The structure and form, including media, for telling the story, will be yours to determine. Given the collaborative nature of the research and of the project, please consider and develop a structure that invites the full and equal participation of all.

You will document the process of developing the concept narrative.The structure and form, including media, for documenting the process, will be yours to determine.

The final version of the narrative, and documentation of the process, will be published on the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective (SERRC). The SERRC is read by an international audience interested in matters related to the social production of knowledge and to the journal Social Epistemology. In essence, the concept narrative is an experiment in the social production of knowledge.

We will not only contend with the explicit use and mention of the term 'normativity' (and derivations such as 'norm' and 'normative') in STS scholarship, but also the implicit invocation of normativity. If you will forgive my mangled phrasing, the implied invocation of normativity can be more or less explicit — uses of 'should' and 'ought' being explicit indicators, for example — and you should be alive to the problem of how one properly identifies implied or "hidden" normativity. How you wrestle with and resolve, for purposes of the narrative, the problem of hidden, silent, or missing normativity will be vital for this project and your future scholarship. In some scholarly work, the invocation and influence of an unrecognized entity, force or concept (say, power or rhetoric) serves as a too convenient basis for criticism or explanation. Along these lines, you might consider a nomenclature or classificatory scheme for the types of normativity you encounter.

Where and how to begin? If you will allow a more or less arbitrary formulation (one you are encouraged to challenge), STS began with the publication of the journal Science Studies in 1971. In 1975, Science Studies was renamed Social Studies of Science in accord with the formation of the Society for Social Studies of Science. Social Studies of Science, still the leading journal in STS, gives a landmark to which we might refer and orient our initial narrative.

In the Editorial in the first issue of Science Studies, we find the following passage in the opening paragraph:

At the same time, the social framework in which the intricate conceptual structures of modern science have developed has begun to attract historians, sociologists and philosophers searching for analytical keys to the study of knowledge, the evolution of the scientific community, and the normative assumptions implicit in different scientific roles. Political scientists have begun to explore the foundations of the 'technological order' in industrialized society, and the relation of political decisions to the future of science and technology around the world (emphasis mine).

We see, then, at least a recognition of "the normative" and, specifically, "normative assumptions" in the opening statement of the founding journal of the field. Perhaps a first step in our narrative?

In telling our story, documenting occurrences of the use of "normative" (and derivatives like "normative assumptions") in the the leading journals in STS may help. Leading journals include:

    Social Studies of Science, Science, Technology and Human Values, Research Policy, Minerva, Science, Technology and Society, Science as Culture, Social Epistemology, Technology and Culture, Science and Public Policy.

Of course, normativity appears in the STS canon. A version of the canon can be found in Science Studies Reading List for comprehensive exams at Rensselaer. In addition, Rensselaer has lists for technology and policy.

An immediate issue confronts us: Our time together will be short and the STS literature, even if confined to selected books and articles published in leading journals, is long. An immediate task, then, will be for you to choose a way to tell the story of normativity coherently, concisely and as fully as possible given the strengths of a group and the limitations of time.

Assignment Mechanics

• You, as a collaborative, will construct the narrative. To aid you in the endeavor, beginning with our second class meeting, I will leave twenty to thirty minutes at the end of each class for you to negotiate matters. In addition, you are encouraged to pursue creative and efficient approaches to meeting and collaborating outside class — using meeting functions on Scholar, Skype, Google Meetup, our wiki, an independent wiki, email. Of course, you do not need to meet always a whole, subgroup and individual work will be necessary.

• You will collaboratively determine how, in form and structure, you will develop a collaborative narrative of "the normative" in STS.

• You will document the process of constructing the narrative. The form and structure you choose for documenting the process must allow for fully and equal participation of class members. However, the documentation's form needs to be understandable to an outside audience (not just notes in raw form) — a "meta-report" and analysis of your collaborative process.

• You will select one "representative article" from your research for the class to read and discuss on February 18, March 4, April 1, April 15 and April 28 (please see the course calendar.) The process of selection, and the selection itself, will be yours to determine. Please let me know your selection a week in advance from the day we will discuss it in class.

• You will complete the narrative, and your documentation of the process, by the last class meeting on Monday, May 6. Citations will be in the Chicago Author-Date System.

• On completion the narrative, and your documentation of the process, will be published to the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. The by-line for the narrative and the documentation will have a collective identification. As the project progresses, I will find potential interlocutors to offer critical replies. The critical replies will take place after the course concludes. If you so choose, you may respond to the critical replies individually and/or collectively.

Norms in STS