What’s the use of it? (Complex maps of science in society)

After a graduate class in which students presented maps they had made of the complex intersections surrounding ideas about genes, race, families, identity, society, business, science,… the question arose of what does one do next. Here are some responses of mine:

1. Look for “an aspect of the map’s complexity that engages you most. Or… look for a path on which you can move through the complexity while turning to the side from time to time so you do not lose sight of the wider terrain” (Taylor & Szteiter 2012, 110ff). This is the question we asked of each students after they described their maps.

2. Interrogate the maps further, with a view to exposing more connections and, perhaps, the mycelium under the visible mushrooms. In the context of this PBL case, we might ask probing questions, such as:

a. How do the data collected limit the questions asked?

b. What meaning of genetic is in play in each instance?

c. What is the social infrastructure (e.g., surveillance, monitoring, ..) that is implied by the use (now or in some future scenario) of the science being pursued?

d. Where does this item sit in relation to the tension that rises when we want to “shift the focus from group membership to heterogeneous pathways without bolstering the fiction that racial group membership no longer brings social benefits and costs”? (Taylor 2009)

e. Which of these four aspects of racial distinctions are being addressed: similarity, diversity, ancestry, and admixture?

etc. (For some themes to rephrase as questions, see Taylor 2009)

3. Establish spaces in which people can choose to take time away from more directed and feasible directions of research and activism to explore the wider realm of issues that they had been backgrounding or leaving unnoticed. (See discussion of refractive practice and CPR spaces.)

4. Include #1, 2, and 3 in a more ambitious endeavor— “enactable social theorizing,” described in an incomplete and unedited thought piece. In brief, the ideal is to embrace:

heterogeneity, shifting associations, and contingency… bring[ing] the multiple strandedness of changing social life into the center (as against being the variation or noise around the deeper [more essential] Social Dynamics [capitalization deliberate here])… shift[ing] the focus from shaping a better social theory to allowing for social theorizing, as well as from representing social dynamics to enacting social theorizing in the form of repeatedly defining and pursuing engagements in the heterogeneous dynamics that intersect in all kinds of society-making.

Taylor, P. J. (2009). “Infrastructure and Scaffolding: Interpretation and Change of Research Involving Human Genetic Information.” Science as Culture, 18(4):435-459.
— and J. Szteiter (2012). Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement Arlington, MA, The Pumping Station, 2012.


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