Multiple objectivity: an anti-relativist approach to situated knowledge


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 9 August 2011


(2011), "Multiple objectivity: an anti-relativist approach to situated knowledge", Kybernetes, Vol. 40 No. 7/8.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Multiple objectivity: an anti-relativist approach to situated knowledge

Article Type: Special issue abstracts From: Kybernetes, Volume 40, Issue 7/8

Ron Eglash

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, USA


Purpose – The paper aims to describe the inadequate nature of both “mono-objectivist” approaches, which deny any role of social influence in science, and relativist social constructions, which fail to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. It outlines an alternative conceptual framework that allows for the possibility of social construction of science, while preventing epistemological relativism.

Design/methodology/approach – The study utilizes the cybernetic concept of recursion to show how science can bend back on itself, investigating its own foundations, without undermining its ability to improve our empirical understanding of the world. The paper makes use of several case studies to define specific mechanisms that show how the process of knowledge production in science can steer a course between reduction to a single “right answer,” and fragmentation into subjective interpretations.

Findings – The paper concludes by showing how the cybernetic recursion of multiple objectivity can also be applied to cybernetics itself. In particular, it suggests that such recursive investigations allow us to reconsider the Law of Requisite Variety, and envision an alternative form that can better account for the complexity that arises in self-generating systems.

Research limitations/implications – The research is unlikely to be of use to scientists looking for epistemological proof of singular right answers, or social constructivists looking for proof of epistemological relativism.

Practical implications – The paper suggests that researchers in constructivism need not limit their work for fear that it will lead to relativist conclusions.

Originality/value – This paper fulfils an identified need to offer an alternative to current developments in the field of science and technology studies.

Keywords Cybernetics, Relativism, Recursion, Complexity, Mathematics, Epistemology, Objectivity

Paper type Conceptual paper