Culture@Large 2008: "Civilizing Modern Practices"

SCA Culture @ Large 2007 presents: Professor Isabelle Stengers (Philosophy of Science, Université Libre de Bruxelles) "Civilizing Modern Practices," Friday, November 30th, 10:00-11:45am

Isabel Stengers, "Isabel Stengers (Université Libre de Bruxelles)." March 23, 2008.

SCA Chair: Marisol de la Cadena (UC Davis)

Discussants: Mike Fortun (RPI), Penny Harvey (U Manchester), Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro), and Veena Das (Johns Hopkins U). 

Isabelle Stengers is among the most influential scholars of Science and Technology Studies, one who, to use a Benjaminian phrase, makes philosophy out of science. Thinking through the notion of ‘practices’—and observing their ecologies—her concepts are original reflections on diverse (and divergent) knowledge practices. Her work occupies a productive space at the interface between Science Studies and other culture-nature practices,making a bold and strong contribution to studies of politics, feminist scholarship, and cultural analysis. Among those inspired by Stengers are Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway. In turn, she draws inspiration from Alfred North Whitehead, Deleuze and Guattari and the neo-pagan witch Starhawk, whose work she has translated into French. Few of her very numerous publications in French have been published in English: Power and Invention(1997) and The Invention of Modern Science (2000) (both by Minnesota Press). Most recently Stengers has contributed an inspiring piece, “The Cosmopolitical Proposal” where she uses the Deleuzian figure of the idiot to perform what she identifies as “slowing down” reasoning “to arouse a slightly different awareness of the problems and situations mobilizing us.” She teaches Philosophy of Science at the Free University of Brussels.

Isabel Stengers, "From the cover of Stengers' book, The Invention of Modern Science (Minnesota, 2000)." March 23, 2008.

Stengers' Paper Abstract

The proposition that modern practices are to be civilized obviously implies a peculiar meaning of what it is to be civilized. The meaning I adopt is the ability to present oneself in such a way that the presentation does not entail that the one who is addressed will be defined in contrast by an inferiority or a lack.

This entails for instance that when modern scientific practitioners do present their practices as objective, rational or respecting the facts, they are not civilized. Civilizing modern practices should not however mean that all practices should be recognized as being all practices only, a proposition closely associated to what has been called the science wars. I will rather try to address practices as divergent, none being like any other. Again this entails a peculiar meaning for practices, a meaning that, I will show, is neither descriptive nor normative, and address what is causing a practitioner to feel and think as irreducible to a matter of belief. 

Finally I will claim that as diverging both from each others and from common sense, practices cannot be generally unified, either in the name of a (human) common ground or a (ideal) common aim. Each connection has the nature of an event, what Gilles Deleuze called a mariage contre nature. A cultivation of such connections corresponds to the perspective of what can be called an ecology of practices.