Paulo Coelho’s The Witch of Portobello

In a provocative gesture author Paulo Coelho lets his novel’s ten? protagonists interpret the intriguing, elusive main character, Athena or the witch of Portobello, as the principle narrator, 44-year-old journalist Henry Ryan (who is not one) provides ‘raw transcripts” from interviews he collected. I keep thinking of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. Perhaps this is ten characters in search of Truth?

At the end of the novel the reader is still uncertain about her character since of course her mother, teachers, ex-husband, employers and followers all see her through their own eyes from different perspectives. Even her name changes throughout. On the last page is Athena truly alive or dead? Did she ever have a special gift that surpassed the everyday? Does she really love others or does she use them for her own ends? Is she manipulative and selfish? Is she a victim or a victimizer? Or is she both. As each protagonist “speaks” we learn as much about them as individuals with their weaknesses and strengths as we do about Athena.

In a final gesture, an innovative twist to the reader-author relationship, the author then hands the story over to his readers and invites them to reinterpret it in a video format by claiming the role of one of the protagonists.

When I set the book down after reading through it twice, I sensed that the profound descriptions of the spiritual power inherent in the pursuit of excellence in creative expression came close to describing Paulo Coelho’s own writing.

I am now working on integrating some of these to illustrate this point . . .

“[L]ife is full of infinite absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible, since they are true. [To] reverse the ordinary process may well be considered a madness: that is, to create credible situations, in order that they may appear true […] to make seem true that which isn’t true, … to give life to fantastic characters on the stage? … Are you not accustomed to see the characters created by an author spring to life in yourselves and face each other? Just because there is no “book” which contains us, you refuse to believe . . . [I]t isn’t possible to live in front of a mirror which not only freezes us with the image of ourselves, but throws our likeness back at us with a horrible grimace?” … Drama is action, sir, action and not confounded philosophy. [E]verybody argues and philosophizes when he is considering his own torments.” (Pirandello/6 characters 1921)

to be continued off to see the fireworks

‘The second kind is done with great technique, but with soul as well. For that to happen, the intention of the writer must be in harmony with the word. In this case, the saddest verses cease to be clothed in tragedy and are transformed into simple facts encountered along the way.’ (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:80).”

“But then, how many of us will be saved the pain of seeing the most important things in our lives disappearing from one moment to the next? I don’t just mean people, but our ideas and dreams too: we might survive a day, a week, a few years, but we’re all condemned to lose. Our bodies remain alive, yet sooner or later our soul will receive the mortal blow. The perfect crime – for we don’t know who murdered our joy, what their motives were, or where the guilty parties are to be found. Are they aware of what they’ve done, those nameless guilty parties? I doubt it, because they too – the depressed, the arrogant, the impotent, and the powerful – are the victims of the reality they created. They don’t understand and would be incapable of understanding Athena’s world (Coelho/Heron Ryan, 44, journalist. The Witch of Portobello. 2007:5-6.)”

“On Sunday afternoon, while we were walking in the park, I asked her to pay attention to everything she was seeing and hearing: the leaves moving in the breeze, the waves on the lake, the birds singing, the dogs barking, the shouts of children as they ran back and forth, as if obeying some strange logic, incomprehensible to grown-ups. ‘Everything moves, and everything moves to a rhythm. And everything that moves to a rhythm creates a sound. At this moment, the same thing is happening here and everywhere else in the world. Our ancestors noticed the same thing when they tried to escape from the cold into caves: things moved and made noise. The first human beings may have been frightened by this at first, but that fear was soon replaced by a sense of awe: they understood that this was the way in which some Superior Being was communicating with them. In the hope of reciprocating that communication, they started imitating the sounds and movements around them – and thus dance and music were born (Coelho/Pavel Podbielski, 57, owner of the apartment. The Witch of Portobello. 2007).”

/

“Monologue is finalized and deaf to the other’s response, does not expect it and does not acknowledge in it any decisive force. Monologue manages without the other, and therefore to some degree materializes all reality . . . Life by its very nature is dialogic. To live means to participate in dialogue (Mikhail Bakhtin 1984:292-293).”

“. . . (Coelho 2007:50).”

“. . . (Coelho 2007:59).”

“. . . (Coelho 2007:75).”

“. . . (Coelho 2007:76).”

“My way of approaching Allah – may his name be praised – has been through calligraphy, and the search for the perfect meaning of each word. A single letter requires us to distil in it all the energy it contains, as if we were carving out its meaning. When sacred texts are written, they contain the soul of the man who served as an instrument to spread them throughout the world. And that doesn’t apply only to sacred texts, but to every mark we place on paper. Because the hand that draws each line reflects the soul of the person making that line (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:76).”

“Writing wasn’t just the experience of a thought but also a way of reflecting on the meaning of each word (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:76).”

“‘Now you must educate only your fingers, so that they can manifest every sensation in your body. That will concentrate your body’s strength.’ (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:78).”

I did not only teach her calligraphy techniques. I also tried to pass on to her the philosophy of the calligraphers. ‘The brush with which you are making these lines is just an instrument. It has no consciousness; it follows the desires of the person holding it. And in that it is very like what we call “life”. Many people in this world are merely playing a role, unaware that there is an Invisible Hand guiding them. At this moment, in your hands, in the brush tracing each letter, lie all the intentions of your soul. Try to understand the importance of this.’ (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:78).”

“Naturally, if she respected the brush that she used, she would realise that in order to learn to write she must cultivate serenity and elegance. And serenity comes from the heart. ‘Elegance isn’t a superficial thing, it’s the way mankind has found to honour life and work. That’s why, when you feel uncomfortable in that position, you mustn’t think that it’s false or artificial: it’s real and true precisely because it’s difficult. That position means that both the paper and the brush feel proud of the effort you’re making. The paper ceases to be a flat, colourless surface and takes on the depth of the things placed on it. Elegance is the correct posture if the writing is to be perfect. It’s the same with life: when all superfluous things have been discarded, we discover simplicity and concentration. The simpler and more sober the posture, the more beautiful it will be, even though, at first, it may seem uncomfortable.’ (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:78).”

“I can combine two things . . . (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:80).”

” ‘There are two kinds of letter,’ I explained. ‘The first is precise, but lacks soul. In this case, although the calligrapher may have mastered the technique, he has focused solely on the craft, which is why it hasn’t evolved, but become repetitive; he hasn’t grown at all, and one day he’ll give up the practice of writing, because he feels it is mere routine. ‘The second kind is done with great technique, but with soul as well. For that to happen, the intention of the writer must be in harmony with the word. In this case, the saddest verses cease to be clothed in tragedy and are transformed into simple facts encountered along the way.’ (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:80).”

“‘Look at a skilled blacksmith working steel. To the untrained eye, he’s merely repeating the same hammer blows, but anyone trained in the art of calligraphy knows that each time the blacksmith lifts the hammer and brings it down, the intensity of the blow is different. The hand repeats the same gesture, but as it approaches the metal, it understands that it must touch it with more or less force. It’s the same thing with repetition: it may seem the same, but it’s always different. The moment will come when you no longer need to think about what you’re doing. You become the letter, the ink, the paper, the word.’ (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:80).”

Calligraphy is not a mere repetition of beauty but an individual, spontaneous, personal and creative gesture (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:83).

In order for a great artist to forget the rules, first she must know them and respect them (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:83).

in the blank spaces between the letters. In the moment when a note of music ends and the next one has not yet begun (Coelho/Nabil Alaihi, age unknown, Bedouin 2007:99).

Vosho Bushalo, a 65-year-old Roma restaurant owner commented about Athena, “If I speak of her now in present tense, it’s because for those who travel, time does not exist, only space (Coelho/Bushalo 2007:104).

Coelho, Paulo. 2007. The Witch of Portobello.

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Bibliography: Scientific Knowledge

This selected bibliography includes entries that might be useful in teaching, learning and research on Ethical, Legal and Social dimensions of science and technology; How scientific knowledge is implicated in establishing, contesting, and maintaining social order; Maintaining social order through scientific knowledge

They might be categorized under

Science> Sociology of Science > Scientific Knowledge >

Social Studies of Science

Technology > Theory >

I am intrigued by the role of the semantic web in mapping knowledge systems and I hope I am contributing to the development of this powerful tool for sharing data, information and as a small step towards knowledge and wisdom as part of a process of a renewed concept of civilization.

Key Words, tags, folksonomy

sociology of science, politics of nomenclature, Golem, peer review, authority in scientific knowledge, authority, trust in scientific knowledge, honesty in scientific knowledge, ways of knowing, certainty, sunset of certainty, sunset of ontological certitude, ontological certitude, replication, mere replication, Michael Mulkay, Social Studies of Science, mapping systems and moral order, science in the American polity, states of knowledge, science and social order, social production of scientific knowledge, social production of social order, social order and social cohesion, social dimensions of scientific writing, life sciences, science advice, expert advice in public policy, social dimensions of science and technology, politics of science and technology, expertise studies, property formation, risk disputes, biotechnology, problematic authority, data with-holding, intellectual property, scientific exchange, expert advice studies, contemporary politics, credibility of expert advice, the production of credibility of expert advice, challenging expert advice, sustaining expert advice, how advisory bodies bring authoritative advice to the public stage, measuring bio-economics, bio-societies, public proofs, making things public, map-making, mapping social order, Sokal affair, research tools, human values, ethics, science and technology and human values, ethical and legal and social issues, knowledge and technology and property,

Lists

trust, honesty, authority

ethical, legal, social

Dichotomies

Conjectures and Refutations

Bibliography and Webliography

Altman, Lawrence. 1990. “The Myth of ‘Passing Peer Review.” in Ethics and Policy in Scientific Publication. Bethesda, MD: Council of Biology Editors, Inc.

Bayer, Ronald. 1987. “Politics, Science, and the Problem of Psychiatric Nomenclature: A Case Study of the American Psychiatric Association Referendum on Homosexuality.” in Scientific Controversies: Case Studies in the Resolution and Closure of Disputes in Science and Technology, edited by H. Tristam Englehardt Jr and Arthur Caplan. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Collins, Harry. 1985. “Replicating the TEA-Laser.” in Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice, edited by Harry Collins Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice. London, UK: Sage.

Collins, Harry and Trevor Pinch. 1988. The Golem at Large: What You Should Know About Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Collins, Harry and Trevor Pinch. 1993. The Golem: What Everyone Should Know about Science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press: Cambridge University Press.

Council_of_Biology_Editors. 1990. “Ethics and Policy in Scientific Publication.” Bethesda, MD: Council of Biology Editors, Inc.

David, Paul A. “Clio and the Economics of QWERTY.”

Eisenthal, Bram D. 2003. Fervent and curious attracted by legend of Golem. Prague, CZ: Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Epstein, Steven. 1995. “The Construction of Lay Expertise: AIDS Activism and the Forging of Credibility in the Reform of Clinical Trials.” Science, Technology, and Human Values 20.

Gieryn, Thomas. 1983. “Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science: Strains and Interests in Professional Ideologies of Scientists.” American Sociological Review 48.

Golem. A Prague’s Guide – Spanish Synogogue.

Goodwin, Charles. 1997. “Professional Vision.” American Anthropologist 96.

Hafton, John and Paul Plouffe. 1997. “Science and Its Ways of Knowing.” Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Haraway, D. 1991a. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.

Haraway, Donna. 1983a. Cyborgs?

Haraway, Donna. 1983b. “The Ironic Dream of a Common Language for Women in the Integrated Circuit: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s or A Socialist Feminist Manifesto for Cyborgs.” in History of Consciousness Board. University of California at Santa Cruz. : Submitted to Das Argument for the Orwell 1984 volume.

Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: the Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14.

Haraway, Donna. 1989. Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science.

Haraway, Donna. 1991b. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Pp. 149-181 in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/Haraway/CyborgManifesto.html haraway_donna/cyborg_manifesto.htm

Haraway, Donna. 1991c. “Daughters of Man-the Hunter in the Field, 1960-80.” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women. New York: Routledge and Kegan.

Haraway, Donna. 1996. “Situated Knowledges: the Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Pp. 249-263 in Feminism and Science.

Haraway, Donna. 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™. New York: Routledge.

Harnad, Stevan. 1995. “Interactive Cognition: Exploring the Potential of Electronic Quote/Commenting.” Pp. 397-414 in Cognitive Technology: In Search of a Humane Interface, edited by B. Gorayska and J.L. Mey. http://cogprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/archive/00001599/00/harnad95.interactive.cognition.html

Hilgartner, Stephen. 2003. What Is Science? Introduction to Science and Technology Studies: Cornell University. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Hughes, Thomas P. 1987. “The Evolution of Large Technological Systems.” in The Social Construction of Technological Systems, edited by Wiebe Bijker, Hughes Thomas, and Trevor Pinch. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Jasanoff, Sheila. 1995. “The Law’s Construction of Expertise.” in Science at the Bar: Law, Science, and Technology in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Jasanoff, Sheila. 1997. “Civilization and Madness: The Great BSE Scare of 1996.” Public Understanding of Science 6. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Kamenetz, Rodger and Steve Stern. 2003. Jewish Icons of Prague: Kafka and The Golem.

Knorr-Cetina, Karin and Michael Mulkay. 1983. “Science Observed: Perspectives on the Social Study of Science.” London, UK: Sage. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Latour, Bruno. 1983. “Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Raise the World.” in Science Observed: Perspectives on the Social Study of Science, edited by Karin Knorr-Cetina and Michael Mulkay. London, UK: Sage. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Latour, Bruno. 1987. “Literature.” in Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Lewenstein, Bruce. 1992. “Cold Fusion and Hot History.” Osiris 7:135-163. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

MacKenzie, Donald. 1987. “Missile Accuracy: A Case Study in the Social Processes of Technological Change.” in The Social Construction of Technological Systems, edited by Wiebe Bijker, Hughes Thomas, and Trevor Pinch. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Merton, Robert K. 1942 [1973]. “The Normative Structure of Science.” in Sociology of Science, edited by Robert K. Merton. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Mukerji, Chandra. 1996. “The Collective Construction of Scientific Genius.” in Cognition and Communication at Work, edited by Yrjo Engestrom and David Middleton. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Mulkay, Michael. 1976 [1991]. “Norms and Ideology.” in Sociology of Science: A Sociological Pilgrimage, edited by Michael Mulkay. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Mulkay, Michael and Nigel Gilbert. 1986 [1991]. “Replication and Mere Replication.” in Sociology of Science: A Sociological Pilgrimage, edited by Michael Mulkay. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

NSF. 1997. “Full Text of Twenty-Year Vision Statement.” National Science Foundation, Center for Science, Policy, & Outcomes. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Pinch, Trevor. The Sociology of Science: Cornell University http://www.sts.cornell.edu/Syllabi/S&TS%20442%20-%20Fall%2099.htm.

Pinch, Trevor. 1981. “The Sun-Set: The Presentation of Certainty in Scientific Life.” Social Studies of Science 11. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Popper, Karl. 1962 [1997]. “Science: Conjectures and Refutations.” in Science and Its Ways of Knowing, edited by John Hafton and Paul Plouffe. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Shapin, Steven. 1995. “Trust, Honesty, and the Authority of Science.” in Society’s Choices: Social and Ethical Decision Making in Biomedicine, edited by National_Academy_of_Science. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

SJFF. “The Golem: San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.” San Francisco. http://www.bestofberkeley.com/view_article.asp?article_id=136

Stossel, Thomas. 1990. “Beyond Rejection: A User’s View of Peer Review.” in Ethics and Policy in Scientific Publication.

Bethesda, MD: Council of Biology Editors, Inc. http://www.sts.cornell.edu/syllabi/sts201.htm

Thieberger, F. 1955. The great Rabbi Loew of Prague: His life and work and the legend of the golem. London, UK: Horovitz Publishing Co.

Vuletic, Dean. 2003. The Return of the Golem. Prague, Czechoslovakia: Czech Radio 7, Radio Prague. http://www.radio.cz/print/en/33264

Wegener, Paul and Carl Boese. 1920. “The Golem.” San Francisco.

Notes

A number of these bibliographic entries are based on bibliographies compiled by Professors Tarleton Gillespie and Stephen Hilgartner, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 USA. Stephen Hilgartner studies the social dimensions and politics of contemporary and emerging science and technology, especially in the life sciences. His research focuses on situations in which scientific knowledge is implicated in establishing, contesting, and maintaining social order-a theme he has examined in studies of expertise, property formation, risk disputes, and biotechnology. His book on science advice, Science on Stage: Expert Advice as Public Drama, won the 2002 Rachel Carson Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science.

How scientific knowledge is implicated in establishing, contesting, and maintaining social order

Maintaining social order through scientific knowledge

key words: Social Studies of Science, mapping systems and moral order, science in the American polity, states of knowledge, science and social order, social production of scientific knowledge, social production of social order, social order and social cohesion, social dimensions of scientific writing, life sciences, science advice, expert advice in public policy, social dimensions of science and technology, politics of science and technology, expertise studies, property formation, risk disputes, biotechnology, problematic authority, data with-holding, intellectual property, scientific exchange, expert advice studies, contemporary politics, credibility of expert advice, the production of credibility of expert advice, challenging expert advice, sustaining expert advice, how advisory bodies bring authoritative advice to the public stage, measuring bio-economics, bio-societies, public proofs, making things public, map-making, mapping social order, Sokal affair, research tools, human values, ethics, science and technology and human values, ethical and legal and social issues, knowledge and technology and property,

Hilgartner, Stephen. 2000. Science on Stage: Expert Advice as Public Drama, Stanford University Press.

“Behind the headlines of our time stands an unobtrusive army of science advisers. Panels of scientific, medical, and engineering experts evaluate the safety of the food we eat, the drugs we take, and the cars we drive. But despite the enormous influence of science advice, its authority is often problematic, and struggles over expert advice are thus a crucial aspect of contemporary politics. Science on Stage is a theoretically informed and empirically grounded study of the social process through which the credibility of expert advice is produced, challenged, and sustained. Building on the sociology of Erving Goffman, the author analyzes science advice as a form of performance, examining how advisory bodies work to bring authoritative advice to the public stage. This lively and accessible analysis provides not only new insights about science advice but also a fresh look at the social dimensions of scientific writing.” (from the book jacket)

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Making the Bioeconomy Measurable: Politics of an Emerging Anticipatory Machinery” (Comment). BioSocieties 2(3):382-6, 2007. http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Overflow and Containment in the Aftermath of Disaster” (Comment). Social Studies of Science, 37(1):153-58, 2007. http://www.hurricanearchive.org

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Voting Machinery, Counting, and Public Proofs in the 2000 US Presidential Election.” Michael Lynch, Stephen Hilgartner, and Carin Berkowitz, in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel. MIT Press, 2005.

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Making Maps and Making Social Order: Governing American Genome Centers, 1988-1993.” In From Genetics to Genomics: The Mapping Cultures of Twentieth-Century Genetics, edited by Jean-Paul Gaudillière and Hans-Joerg Rheinberger, Routledge, 2004.

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Mapping Systems and Moral Order: Constituting Property in Genome Laboratories.” In States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order, edited by Sheila Jasanoff, Routledge, 2004.

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Biotechnology.” In Smelser, Neil J. and Paul Baltes, eds., International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2:1235-40, Elsevier, 2002.

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Acceptable Intellectual Property.” Journal of Molecular Biology, 319(4):943-46, 2002.

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Data Withholding in Academic Genetics: Evidence From a National Survey.” Eric G. Campbell, Brian R. Clarridge, Manjusha Gokhale, Lauren Birenbaum, Stephen Hilgartner, Neil A. Holtzman, David Blumenthal, Journal of the American Medical Association 287(4):473-80, 2002.

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Data Access Policy in Genome Research.” Pp. 202-18 in Arnold Thackray, ed., Private Science: Biotechnology and the Rise of the Molecular Sciences, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Access to Data and Intellectual Property: Scientific Exchange in Genome Research.” Pp. 28-39 in National Academy of Sciences, Intellectual Property and Research Tools in Molecular Biology: Report of a Workshop, National Academy Press, 1997. http://www.nap.edu/books

Hilgartner, Stephen. “The Sokal Affair in Context.” Science, Technology & Human Values, Vol. 24, No. 2, Autumn 1997, pp. 506-22.

Hilgartner, Stephen. “Biomolecular Databases: New Communication Regimes for Biology?” Science Communication, Vol. 17, No. 2, December 1995, pp. 240-63.

Teaching:

Hilgartner, Stephen. Spring 2007 – (S&TS 391/Govt 309/AmStud 389) Science in the American Polity: 1960- Now TR: 1:25-2:40, 4 Credits

Hilgartner, Stephen. Spring 2007 – (S&TS 411) Knowledge, Technology and Property MW: 2:55-4:10, 4 Credits

Hilgartner, Stephen. Fall 2006 – (BSOC/S&TS 205) Ethical Issues in Health and Medicine TR: 10:10-11:25 + Section, 4 Credits

Hilgartner, Stephen. Fall 2006 – (S&TS 645/Govt 634) The New Life Sciences: Emerging Technology, Emerging Politics T: 2:30-4:25, Credits

Links:

Department of Science & Technology Studies: www.sts.cornell.edu

Undergraduate major in Biology & Society: www.sts.cornell.edu/programbsoc.php

Ph.D. Program in Science & Technology Studies: www.sts.cornell.edu/programphd.php

Cornell New Life Science Initiative: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues: http://www.genomics.cornell.edu/focus_areas/elsi/

Voting Technology Archive: http://www.sts.cornell.edu/voting_technology_archive/

Luhmann: Complexity can be Handled only by Complexity

A summary by Maureen Flynn-Burhoe of Hornung (1998 ) on Luhmann: Complexity: non-intervention and observation

In Fuchs discussion of the work of Niklas Luhmann, an impassioned theorist. Luhmann argued that the role of sociology was to develop a theory that would provide a better and more complex understanding of the world. This could be done by developing a description and analysis of modern society through observation of society in its minute details. However, in its role as a science, sociology should not try to provide recipes to improve the world. The functional differentiation between sociology and politics should be respected.

In this way ethics should not determine sociological theory rather ethics depends on sociological theory.

Professor Hornung, the President of the University of Marburg, acknowledged that Luhmann’s restriction to observation and non-intervention may seem to be an unaffordable luxury in crisis-ridden times. Hornung admits that sociologists “are in fact under daily pressure in our jobs to “produce” both scientific results and students to the precise profiles requested by the economy and the “market”. But he cautions against ignoring Luhmann’s lesson that

“complexity can be handled only by complexity (Hornung 1998).”

Shifting Words, Shifting Worlds

In the address written at the time of Niklas Luhmann death in 1998, Dr. Bernd R. Hornung, , described Luhmann as the “most important contemporary intellectual leader and representative of systems science in sociology.” The influence of his new challenges and new perspectives extended far beyond sociology. Empassioned by theory, Luhmann provided new and influential perspectives which challenge the “army of “regular scientists.” Luhmann combined the theory of the organization of the living of Maturana and Varela with his own complex reasoning and “transferred it to sociology, where it became soon a cornerstone of his own monumental construction of theory.” In this theory the observer plays a key role by observing minute differences which impact on shifting terms, words and worlds (Hornung 1998).

“A considerable part of his life work consists in applying his abstract, complex frame of theoretical reference to virtually all areas of society, from the internal workings of administration to global ecological problems, from politics and economy to arts, love, and religion. Aiming at a universal theory of society no sector of society was left out in his attempt to apply, test, and further develop his theory.” In order to expand his theory Luhmann entered into a scholarly confrontation with Habermas’ theory (1971). See Hornung (1998).

Luhmann, a student of Talcott Parsons at Harvard in 1960-1, is a successor to but not a follower of, Parsons. They both attempted to develop a grand sociological theory that was universal and all encompassing (Hornung 1998).

In 1968, as Professor of Sociology at the newly founded Reform University of Bielefeld he devoted his full energy to his theory of modern society. He was inspired somewhat by Husserl’s phenomenology but primarily by systems theory and cybernetics in his own efforts to develop a description of society (Hornung 1998).

Luhmann’s Methodology: History, Legal Theory not Empirical Measurement

Informed by his love for history and using the tools of legal theory which involved library research and case studies Luhmann’s project was to study society as a whole and develop a theory of modern society. His methods were not those of a natural scientist. He did not use an ethnological style of participant observation nor empirical measurement, data collection, and statistical hypothesis testing as a way to construct theory (Hornung 1998).

Review of Joan Huber’s (1995) ASA Centennial Essay

Review of Joan Huber’s 1995 Centennial Essay for the American Sociological Association

JoanHuber’s 1995 Centennial Essay for the American Sociological Association presents a view of sociology as a discipline in which there are two unbridgeable intellectual approaches. In the first group are the scholarly, viable academics, the true scientists capable of producing replicable research who, as

“disinterested observers seek[…] objective truth with universal validity that is based on the notion of a reality independent of human thought and action (Searle 1993:69 cited in Huber).”

On the other side of this intellectual chasm are the academics who have postmodernist tendencies, which for her encompasses feminists, anti-rationalists and relativists. They operate mostly in the humanities seeking to discover truth about the universe while rejecting the rationalist philosophy that has sustained Western European civilization for centuries. They infiltrate sociology because of its interdisciplinary nature. Huber’s believes sociology’s status as a science is in direct correlational to its status within academia.

For Huber the solution lies not in negotiating a larger space for “who?” but in compliance to the expectations of administrators. To “get busy” producing data invokes an image of pencil pushers who do not have time to ask the larger questions (Huber:212-3).

My question is, who then will ask those questions? And who is “we”? For Huber the survival of sociology as a discipline depends on the exclusion of those academics whose research does not conform to her definition of science. Whereas in more prosperous times, the interdisciplinary nature of sociology was seen as a strength, in a period of crisis within the discipline, Huber views it as a weakness.

Models of Profitability Impact on Sociology, Cultural Representation and Identity Issues

Max Weber’s statement about endemic bureaucracy creating an “iron cage of the future” proved to be prophetic. Current debates in social sciences reflect the contradiction inherent in the late 20th century in which increasing bureaucratic process in all forms of governance collides with theoretical enquiries demanding constant reappraisals of these same processes. In the university setting, sociology as a discipline is situated at the centre of these debates. In practice sociologists as civil servants can become trapped into working on narrow, exclusive and specialized enquiries that allow them to operate only with hard facts such as statistics that resemble scientific methods. At worst this transforms them into bureaucrats operating in a safe and acceptable environment while investigating short-term answers to questions they did not formulate, questions that were not informed by a contemporary theoretical framework. It indeed becomes Weber’s cage.

Antirationalists, which for Huber meant anti-science, undermined the credibility of the entire discipline of sociology. Relativism in Britain and postmodern anti-rationalist tendencies in the late 1960s examined the social sciences from within. Knowledge producers, including social scientists were accused of being ‘eurocentric’ and by extension “parochial”. Huber rejects these anti-rational tendencies and feels they should not be tolerated within a discipline already in crisis (Huber:205, Gulbenkian 1995:52). Huber feels theoretical debates are hollow and they contribute to the crisis in sociology since the 1970s with the closing of departments of sociology, the increase of stress among sociologists and skepticism on the part of the media and by extension the public on the role of the sociologist. This has led to a lowering of moral among sociologists as well as a lowering of median professorial salaries (Huber:209). University administrators, already under pressure because of fiscal restraints, became increasingly critical of sociology departments which in their view were centres for leftist radicalism attracting student activists and creating units that were increasingly difficult to control, administer and manage.

She argues that sociologists have to recognize the feasibility of their research. Academic teaching and research facilities require funding which is currently highly competitive. Funding is not just based on ability but on a legitimized ability to provide something that no one else can. The question then is, “What do we do as sociologists) that no one else does as well?”

Current trends in many academic and cultural institutions’ policies are strongly influenced by business models of profitability. This could prove detrimental to issues of identity and representation and to an adequate reflection of the complexities of society and culture.

Huber’s uncritical positivism and objectivism reflects sociology divorced from its implications. Huber grants the safe acceptable forms of knowledge a privileged status. She concludes her paper with a call to sociologists to produce “solid facts” about the way societal organizations function and change in order to clarify the the problems experienced by individuals and groups. Giving it a comparative advantage, sociology supplies the knowledge needed to run welfare states. Sociology needs practical problems that will stimulate pressure for action, attract resources and test theories. The data produced by sociologists should be generated through the sharpest theoretical and methodological tools, while maintaining historic continuity (Huber:203).

Joan Huber is more concerned about the question “What do we do as sociologists, that gives us the right to make a claim for legitimacy as a scientific discipline ?”

My question, “Who are we as sociologists?” should be at least recognised and investigated before we just “get to work” and produce these “solid facts about the way societal organizations function and change in order to clarify the experistates, to stimulate pressure for action, attract resources and test theories (Huber:213-4).”

It is not enough, declares Rorty, to be willing to run welfare states, stimulate pressure for action and attract resources if there is not a fundamantal belief that it is feasible economically (Rorty:1996). This feasiblity is based on belief. By its very nature it cannot be a solid fact.

Gulbenkian 1995:52

Huber, Joan. 1995. “Institutional Perspectives on Sociology” American Journal of Sociology

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 1999. Review of