September 3, 2018, von: Peter Müller

A quick thought on science of science and stories of stories

Before I post a short report on the (spoiler so far: great) 4S conference 2018 in Sydney, Australia, I want to share a thought that had been inspired by a very compelling discussion I had at the conference with Nicholas Rowland and Barbara Bok but also is somehow a product of the whole conference itself and its vibrant discourses.

After all, in MCTS we do research on many different levels, we have strictly empirical, fact bounded, and theory poor micro-level investigations, as well as critical case studies and broad structural, conceptual, and theoretical works. These things sometimes seem not to fit entirely. The levels of reflexion, which appear to be the semantic center of our scientific works, mutual critiques, evaluations and review procedures, might just be too different. What belongs to the system of narrative networks we (co)produce? How would we know, and (why) should we care at all?

Concerning these questions, I believe the answer is: We do not have to care about these discrepancies, but it is useful to take a closer look at what their implications are. When MCTS researchers write about engineers, scientists and other non/human actors, they tell stories about them, trying to understand and somehow translate the stories they find in their (empirical) field of study. And that is basically what I want to suggest, to understand our very practice, yes, even more, our basic human condition as a set of modi narrandi, a net of storytelling. German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt once stated that humans are “singing animals”, and there is not even a need for a shift of that idea for the origins of storytelling lead back quite straight to the era of rhapsodies, of singers that told/sang stories.

However, with the rise of modernity, we changed our understanding of stories, we began to explicitly differentiate between the (fictional) story and the real world. It is a quite “protestant” attitude, the bible is no longer a book of immediate truth, but a metaphor, the fairytales and legends are no longer just descriptions of the world, but were re-told and re-interpreted as signifiers of certain normative and moral expressions. With the same notion, positivism arises from this strong differentiation of given truth from our own, subjective understanding. This is already a paradox development that this differentiation actually lead to a more naïve conduct towards the world, and this development is repeated in the self-made problem of how subjectivity, “social construction”, etc. were to be integrated with the idea of truth…

Now, this is where we might profit from remembering the idea of stories. Story can be true, they do not have to, they move along history and do not lead to a specific point of message, they are just descriptions, comments, narrative networks that give orientation to the stories telling community (an idea I actually have from great Austrian story teller Michael Köhlmeier). And like with ancient mythology that contained, itself, a mythology, heros within myths wondering whether they could actually find the land of Amazons or this land just being part of mythology. Isn’t this the very form of our way of documenting, interpreting, discussing, archiving and dismissing? I think it solves some metaphysical problems concerning truth claims, prevents reification and might give us an idea what is happening, if we discuss issues on different levels of content and reflexion. “Sociality is the capacity of being several things at once” (Mead, The philosophy of the presence, 1932), and that also applies to the stories we tell each other. It might be also a way of providing criticizing open to further discussion (or re-telling), and a way of describing the world without falling for positivism or giving up truth, for every story is what it is, and might have its particular, appropriate moments and occasions. Especially for a field of research that sometimes tends to hide behind the mode of “describing” that implicitly excludes the subjectivity of the researcher, or excludes the described events by reflectively highlighting the researcher, it might be useful to give one or two additional thoughts on narration theory and how we orientate ourselves in a world of stories… However, this is a rather preliminary thought. Still, it might allow us to understand and integrate all the different kinds of research in one great set of modern mythology. There is no outside of this vast sea of stories…

Tags:  Epistemology
Kategorien:  Research, Science, Theory