Reader Loren sent me this video (with an introduction by Noam Chomsky) on some of the shenanigans of postmodern nonsense (yes, I know that not all of the humanities or “science studies” is riddled with this stuff). A lot of the material presented comes from the Twi**er site New Real Peer Review, which is worth following.
Can you recognize the scholars pictured at the end?
You can find a lot of these papers simply by googling the titles. For instance, the paper by Eviatar Zurubabel, which the video summarizes (4:36) as saying “Science and reason are bad”, does in fact claim that. It was in the journal Cultural Sociology, and you can find it here. Here’s its first paragraph:
The realization that ‘reality’ may not be what I had always thought it was, and that our notion of absolute objectivity is ultimately social, blew my mind when I first read Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s classic The Social Construction of Reality (1967 ) as a college senior 44 years ago. And the mechanism most responsible for how we come to view something as objective, I discovered, is the process of reification.
I haven’t looked at all of the papers (I’d go nuts if I had to), but not all of them appear to be completely as characterized. For instance, the paper at 4:49 supposedly arguing “Why ‘Marxian selection’ has better explanatory power than Darwinian selection”, is really about how some sociocultural phenomena need a teleological approach because they’re the result of human “purpose.” That said, I wonder whether any of these papers have made a substantive contribution to human knowledge. Insofar as we’re supporting this research with institutional or government funds, we appear to not be expanding humanity’s knowledge, but propelling the careers of humanities scholars.
I received an angry email the other day from a prominent “science studies” scholar who will remain unnamed, telling me that I had no right to criticize that field because I hadn’t read widely in it, or had a degree in it. I didn’t respond, but if I had I would have said that I’ve indeed read a great deal of “science studies,” from Popper and Kuhn down to modern days, and I know that a lot of it is worthwhile—the work of Phil Kitcher and my colleague Bob Richards, for instance, both of whom I’ve discussed on this website. But there’s no denying that even today “science studies” is riddled with postmodern nonsense, and you don’t have to have a Ph.D. in the field to conclude that.
“El tabaco se ha mulato”: Globalizing Race, Viruses, and Scientific Observation in the Late Nineteenth Century
AbstractThis article traces the earliest identified recorded descriptor for viral infection: the racialized Spanish expression “el tabaco se ha mulato” (“the tobacco has become mulatto”). The phrase appears in the late nineteenth-century travel writing of French colonial scientist Jules Crevaux, written as he journeyed through post-Spanish Independence Colombia and observed the demise of the once-thriving tobacco industry. I theorize the literary translations and visualizations, or what I call “visual translations,” of the phrase across scientific and historical texts that cite Crevaux to track the refraction of racial, gender, and sexual discourses in virology. I argue that the phrase refers to the historically dispossessed Indigenous and Black subjects of the nascent Colombian republic and their resistance to subjection when forced to work the tobacco fields. The article historicizes virus discovery at the juncture between science, nation-building, global industrialization, and the disciplining of race and sex under the long shadow of Euro-American empire. Drawing upon Ed Cohen’s concept of “viral paradox,” Nayan Shah’s notion of “strangerhood,” and Mel Y. Chen’s framework for thinking about “queer animacies,” I deconstruct the visual, conceptual, and etymological roots of the phrase “el tabaco se ha mulato” to argue that the expression renders the virus as both “queer” and “strange” to the nation. The virus signifies the mulato subject as a stubborn challenge to racial hierarchies and to the host-guest-parasite relation, both of which are foundational to the social organization of the nation and polis. This signification insistently refuses the human/non-human binary that undergirds racial regimes and biological conceptions of life. In turn, I expand historical thinking about race, submit that pandemics result from global industrial resource extraction rather than merely poor hygiene, and offer a framework for “queer decolonizing.”
Virtually every paper in the three issues of that journal has an equally impenetrable and jargon-ridden abstract. I’m amazed that people get paid to write this stuff; it’s as if writing this way confers you membership in some secret and elite club with its own secret jargon.