Fields of Knowledge: Science, Politics and Publics in the Neoliberal Age: Volume 27

Subject:

Table of contents

(18 chapters)
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List of Contributors

Pages vii-viii
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Abstract

This Introduction gives a historical and theoretical overview of this volume on Fields of Knowledge: Science, Politics and Publics in the Neoliberal Age, which showcases original research in political sociology of science targeting the changes in scientific and technological policy and practice associated with the rise of neoliberal thought and policies since the 1970s. We argue that an existing family of field theoretic frameworks and empirical field analyses provides a particularly useful set of ideas and approaches for the meso-level understanding of these historical changes in ways that complement as well as challenge other theory traditions in sociology of science, broadly defined. The collected papers exhibit a dual focus on sciences’ interfield relations, connecting science and science policy to political, economic, educational, and other fields and on the institutional logics of scientific fields that pattern expert discourses, practices, and knowledge and shape relations of the scientific field to the rest of the world. By reconceptualizing the central problem for political sociology of science as a problem of field- and inter-field dynamics, and by critically engaging other theory traditions whose assumptions are in some ways undermined by the contemporary history of neoliberalism, we believe these papers collectively chart an important theoretical agenda for future research in the sociology of science.

Abstract

In this paper, we present and apply a new framework – the Poles of Production for Producers/Poles of Production for Users (PFP/PFU) model – to empirically study how one particular group of academic scientists has responded to neoliberal changes in science policy and funding in Canada. The data we use are from a qualitative case study of 20 basic health scientists affiliated with a research-intensive university in a large Canadian city. We use the PFP/PFU model to explore the symbolic strategies (the vision of scientific quality) and practical strategies (the acquisition of funding and production of knowledge outputs) scientists adopt to maintain or advance their own position of power in the scientific field. We also compare similarities and differences among scientists trained before and after the rise of neoliberal policy. The PFP/PFU model allows us to see how these individual strategies cumulatively contribute to the construction of dominant and alternate modes of knowledge production. We argue that the alignments and misalignments between quality vision and practice that scientists in this study experienced reflect the symbolic struggles that are occurring among scientists, and between the scientific and political field, over two competing logics and reward systems (PFP/PFU).

Abstract

Market-based approaches to environmental management are increasingly common. In 1983 when Joeres and David published their pioneering collection, Buying a Better Environment, the concept was seen as at best novel, and at worst far-fetched. Yet today, conservation and water quality credits are for sale in many developed countries, and the idea of payment for ecosystem services is ubiquitous in environmental policy circles. This paper traces that shift from command-and-control to market-based environmental management through analysis of the evolving practice of stream mitigation banking (SMB) in the US. In the most common form of SMB today, a for-profit company buys land with a damaged stream on it and restores it to produce mitigation credits which can then be purchased by developers to fulfill their permit conditions under the Clean Water Act. Though decidedly noncommercial in origin, SMB was converted into for-profit tradable regulatory mechanism in 2000 and has since spread rapidly across the US with the strong support of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Using Bourdieu’s field concept as a framework, I argue that the neoliberal transformation of mitigation banking is a product of both relations within the regulatory field, of that field’s relations with the fields of science, and of power.

Abstract

This paper utilizes controversies over the role of a set of insecticides in mass honey bee die-offs in two different national contexts – France and the United States – in order to understand the science-state nexus in a comparative manner. On the one hand, the French government in 1999 and 2004 suspended the commercial use of the insecticidal products that beekeepers suspected of causing the honey bee declines. On the other hand, the US government has to date refused to heed beekeepers’ calls to limit the usage of the very same set of insecticides. We examine why the governments of France and the United States came to contrasting conclusions regarding broadly similar technoscientific issues. The divergent outcomes, we argue, are not simply the result of predetermined differences in the two states’ regulatory paradigms (with France being “precautionary,” and the United States adhering to a “sound science” approach), but are underpinned by divergent forms of beekeepers’ resistance. The paper further sheds light on non-state actors’ use of science and state to contest state (in)action by analyzing how historically influenced differences in state structures, the relational dynamics of beekeepers’ and farmers’ organizations, and the epistemic cultures of honey bee knowledge production, shaped different forms of resistance and influence in France and the United States.

Abstract

The emergence of climate science denialism in the United States provides a challenge to STS theories of the relationship between scientific expertise and public policy because a situation of epistemic rift occurs: the capacity of scientific consensus to establish the grounds of political debate is broken, and the standard circulation of expertise from the scientists and funding from the state is interrupted. Three mechanisms for the containment of scientific expertise are studied: direct intellectual suppression of climate scientists, industry support of contrarian scientists and policymakers, and cutbacks on government research programs that support climate change. This situation politicizes climate scientists, who are drawn into the public sphere as a counterpublic to the effort to contain the circulation of their knowledge in the political field. Although the strategy of contained expertise has been effective in blocking climate legislation at the federal government level in the United States, it may be losing effectiveness, and an emergent alternative strategy based on adaptation may be coming to replace it. Factors that affect the reduction in the capacity to contain the circulation of scientific expertise are also analyzed.

Abstract

The UK government’s support for sustainable construction involves an explicit attempt to introduce a new institutional logic into the construction sector, while the use of Building Research Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) as a preferred policy mechanism exemplifies neoliberal use of voluntary self-regulation to promote policy goals. This paper uses the case of BREEAM to examine the role of science and scientific expertise in the exercise of neoliberal governance. More specifically, it combines a neo-institutional analysis of change with Foucault’s theory of governmentality to explore the effect of BREEAM on eight construction projects. The concepts of visibility, knowledge, techniques, and identity provide an analytic grid to explore the effect of BREEAM on understandings and practices of “green building.” Appeals to science and scientific authority are found to be most important in those instances where institutional logics clash and the legitimacy of BREEAM as a carrier of sustainable construction is challenged. From a theoretical perspective, the case studies highlight the role of instruments in the micro-dynamics of institutionalization. Empirically, it underlines the limited, but nonetheless significant, effect of weakly institutionalized neoliberal policy mechanisms.

Abstract

Field theory is one of the most visible approaches in the new political sociology of science, and Fligstein & McAdam’s (F&M) Theory of Fields is the most visible recent attempt to further it. This paper evaluates F&M’s theory of field transformation by comparing it with Berman’s (2012a) field-based explanation of the changes in the field of US academic science. While F&M’s general framework is quite useful, their explanation, which focuses on struggles between incumbents and challengers over whose conception of the field should dominate, does not map neatly onto the changes in academic science, which saw no such field-level struggles. This suggests that tools are also needed for explaining new settlements that do not result from intentional efforts to establish them. In particular, the case of US academic science shows that local innovations with practices based on alternative conceptions of the field can lead to field-level change. Attention to the interaction between local practice innovations and larger environments provides insights into how change ripples across fields, as well as the ongoing contention and dynamism within even relatively stable fields.

Abstract

Field theory is waxing in the sociology of science, and Pierre Bourdieu’s work is especially influential. His characterization of field structure and dynamics has been especially valuable in drawing attention to hierarchical and center-periphery relations in science and technology, and to the stability and reproduction of science and technology practices. What field theory does less well, however, is to capture the existence of multiple (including marginal) logics around a given sociotechnical object. Nor does it capture the dynamics of a specific logic of neoliberal capitalism in the US: the cultural and economic value of entrepreneurship that emphasizes the continual reconfiguration of social relations, which has its roots in a longer US history of progress-through-reinvention, and is abetted by new technologies designed to continually “update” and remix. Much better at capturing these qualities, we argue, is an institutionalist theory in which dynamism, not stasis, is foregrounded, and there is room for multiple, contradictory, and non-cognitive logics to co-exist. Using the expansion of “alternative nutrition” in the US, we show that its formation took place via the conjunction of parallel streams of social action that encompassed diverse logics and encouraged creativity and hybridity. More generally, variability in field stability and qualities, not static fields, deserve analytic attention.

Abstract

This paper responds to recent calls for deeper scrutiny of the institutional contexts of citizen science. In the last few years, at least two dozen civil society organizations in New York and Pennsylvania have begun monitoring the watershed impacts of unconventional natural gas drilling, also known as “fracking.” This study examines the institutional logics that inform these citizen monitoring efforts and probes how relationships with academic science and the regulatory state affect the practices of citizen scientists. We find that the diverse practices of the organizations in the participatory water monitoring field are guided by logics of consciousness-raising, environmental policing, and science. Organizations that initiate monitoring projects typically attempt to combine two or more of these logics as they develop new practices in response to macro-level social and environmental changes. The dominant logic of the field remains unsettled, and many groups appear uncertain about whether and how their practices might have an influence. We conclude that the impacts of macro-level changes, such as the scientization of politics, the rise of neoliberal policy ideas, or even large-scale industrial transformations, are likely to be experienced in field-specific ways.

DOI
10.1108/S0198-8719201427
Publication date
2014-08-13
Book series
Political Power and Social Theory
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78350-668-2
eISBN
978-1-78350-667-5
Book series ISSN
0198-8719