Objective Styles in Northern Field Science

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 52:1-12 (2015)
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Social studies of science have often treated natural field sites as extensions of the laboratory. But this overlooks the unique specificities of field sites. While lab sites are usually private spaces with carefully controlled borders, field sites are more typically public spaces with fluid boundaries and diverse inhabitants. Field scientists must therefore often adapt their work to the demands and interests of local agents. I propose to address the difference between lab and field in sociological terms, as a difference in style. A field style treats epistemic alterity as a resource rather than an obstacle for objective knowledge production. A sociological stylistics of the field should thus explain how objective science can co-exist with radical conceptual difference. I discuss examples from the Canadian North, focussing on collaborations between state wildlife biologists and managers, on the one hand, and local Aboriginal Elders and hunters, on the other. I argue that a sociological stylistics of the field can help us to better understand how radically diverse agents may collaborate across cultures in the successful production of reliable natural knowledge.

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Jeff Kochan
Universit├Ąt Konstanz


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