März 6, 2019, von: Nikolaus Pöchhacker

Techno-Scientific Constitutionalism – a few notes

Beginning of February this year, a workshop, co-funded by NSF and DFG, on techno-scientific constitutionalism was hosted – and I had the honor of being part of that. During this workshop, scholars from the fields of MCTS, sociology, political science and law discussed the relation between law, techno-science, and the practices that constitute the very constructs of “the state”, “the union” and the like – formed by a constitution with small “c” (Jasanoff, 2011).

Politics with a small p are framed not so much by big discussions in parliaments, official meetings and written decisions. Instead, politics in an MCTS sense are defined by the way how we assemble and collect the world (Latour, 2005). The ways how we configure material interactions, how matters of facts are being produced, etc. All of them become representatives in our interaction with socio-technical worlds, defining the “we” the “the world”. This is true for every-day interactions, when a speed-bump regulates driving speed more effectively than any speed limit sign, and it is true for the intersection between Politics and techno-scientific expertise, where decisions are based on these representations. When we look at constructs like the state of the legal system, these relations are becoming even more important.

[C]onstitutionalism with a small “c” […] extends the notion of a „legal text“ to include not only written rules and opinions, but also the institutional practices that make up a constitutional order (Jasanoff, 2011, p. 10).

What constitutes these entities, relies also very much on institutional practices, material set-ups and fact-making. As such, they are very much defined by the way how the legal system relies on expertise and external representation (Lynch, 2013; Cole, 20014; Jasanoff, 1997). However, drawing from perspectives from sociology of law (Vismann, 2008) and ANT inspired inquiries into law (Latour, 2002) the question arises how these relations and interpretations are shifting with an ongoing utilization of new and emergent technologies (of course – I am thinking here about digital technologies). So, the way how the institutions themselves are assembled and how they manage their relations to outside expertise and “world-making” becomes a crucial one if we want to understand what (legally) constitutes constructs as “the state”, our democracies and supra-national unions. This shift from techno-scientific politics and interventions in world-making practices to techno-scientific constitutionalism with state and law making is therefore an important one to understand contemporary societies. MCTS can make an important contribution to such an endeavor.

Yet, what the workshop showed is that the matter of concern cannot be tackled from one perspective alone. Bringing together MCTS, law, political science, etc. and putting them into an ongoing discussion seems necessary. The most productive moments during the meeting took place, when disciplined and disciplinary understandings clashed and produced irritations on take-for-granted ideas about the field of inquiry. As a result one take-away message for myself of this workshop, amongst many other things, is the insight that exactly the lack of a common language and understanding creates an environment where we are able to productively think about matters of law, techno-science and constitutionalism. In this spirit, I am looking forward having many more irritations in discussions with otherwise disciplined academics – especially with legal scholars.

Cole, S. (2001). Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification. Cambridge, MA; London, England: Harvard University Press.
Jasanoff, S. (1997). Science at the Bar: Law, Science, and Technology in America (Reprint edition). Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Jasanoff, S. (2011). Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Latour, Bruno. 2002. La Fabrique du droit. Une ethnographie du Conseil d’État. Paris: La Découverte.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Lynch, M. (2013). Science, truth, and forensic cultures: the exceptional legal status of DNA evidence. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 44(1), 60–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2012.09.008
Vismann, C. (2008). Files: Law and Media Technology. (G. Winthrop-Young, Trans.). Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

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