Drawing Science and Humanities Together with Situating Science

Sun., Jan. 12, 2014, 10:15pm

Drawing Science and Humanities Together with Situating Science
Veronica Simmonds
March 5, 2012

How do science and technology affect us? Historians, social scientists and philosophers across the country are trying to answer this question as part of the Situating Science project.

This week, the Atlantic node of Situating Science hosts “To See Where it Takes Us,” a series of talks, not unlike TedX talks. The first features Dr. Isabelle Stengers, a world-renowned philosopher of science with a background in chemistry, from the Université libre de Bruxelles at 7:30 p.m. tonight (Mar.5)

Her keynote presentation at St. Mary’s University will be on 'Cosmopolitics.'

Stengers’ notion of the ‘cosmopolitic’ encourages people of all disciplines to see sciences, their technologies, nature and politics as situated in a fluid ecology rather than held separate in silos.

“The talk...is going to be radically interdisciplinary because it’s going to talk about the idea of nature and the idea of what it is to be modern and what is it to have a ‘cosmopolitic’ that doesn’t just include the human agent,” says Dr. Gordon McOuat, Situating Science’s project director, and a professor in the History of Science and Technology Programme and the Contemporary Studies Programme at King's.

Situating Science itself offers ”an open hand to people who are working in the sciences, but also people in policy and culture and the general public. It’s a wide network with all kinds of engagement,” McOuat says.

The project, started in 2007, brings together various humanities scholars who are studying science and technology. There are six “nodes,” with Dalhousie and King’s hosting the Atlantic node.

Experimental Wounds: Science and Violence in Mid-Century America, Susan Lindee Sept 18, 2009 from Situating Science on Vimeo.

The University of King’s College is known for its interdisciplinary programs , but Dr.McOuat says that knowledge exchange across disciplines, like the kind fostered by the Situating Science project, is still in its infancy.

“It’s very new. Humanist—especially humanities—scholars are often very atomized—they sort of stick to their specific research and interests and that becomes the center of their world. These silos existed very separately from each other, but the rise of the modern world, especially the modern interaction of technologies and modern sociability means that we can’t live like that anymore.

"Interdisciplinarity has become the watch-word of modern scholarship.”

Isaac Siemens is a Dalhousie med student, but used to be an arts student at King’s. Has he noticed any movement toward interdisciplinarity in the world of Medicine?

He says he sees a push to integrate humanities and medicine, but says the programs “haven't managed to escape the binary between science and humanities.”

“For instance, they have lots of ‘medical humanities’ programming, and more and more programs to combine art and science, but it’s always extracurricular things like contributing photos or paintings to a competition or joining a band.”

And, he says, old thoughts dominate the arts-science discussion right now.

“When we do medical ethics, we use antiquated philosophy like Kant or various utilitarian thinkers as reference points. Imagine using Foucault or Derrida or more contemporary thinkers who actually wrote about modern medical practices.”

But, when I ask Dr. McOuat if this notion of fluidity will enter academia more generally, he says it’s still a work in progress.

“There has been so much talk at the university level across the country that we should break down the strong barriers of disciplines and offer interdisciplinarity, but remember that people find their self-legitimacy and their self-reflection within their discipline," says McOuat. "We need to be bargers that jump through the breach and hopefully the rest will follow us.”