A Philosophy of STS

A philosophy of STS needs to:
1. Set normative standards that both define research and appropriate methods.
2. Provide goals (temporally relative?) for scholarship and interaction
3. Teach its practitioners how to engage and what to engage with; the purpose is to be critical and constructive as opposed merely to critical.

Because STS scholars represent a variety of disciplines (history, philosophy, policy and sociology, among others), the discipline needs standards for what the research should look like and how it should be performed. A philosophy of STS would seek answers to such questions as: What is the goal of micro case-studies? How should these studies impact other research (and if the answer to this question is that the studies do not have relevance outside the sample group, they should not be pursued)? How does STS research differ from social-scientific and scientific research? Regarding the methods for research that should be pursued, a philosophy of STS will evaluate dominant methodologies currently practiced in the field, like Actor Network Theory, and either propose alternatives or improve upon the current methodology (the assumption is that ANT has advantageous aspects but could be improved). What is the role of empirical research in STS, and how should the results of the empirical research be evaluated? The philosophy of STS is not a method, although it will provide criteria for what a method in STS should include.
Second, a philosophy of STS will examine past and current scholarship in the field of STS to determine what the goals were and are. These goals will be evaluated on such criteria as: reception, efficacy and adaptability. In terms of reception, how have scholars, within STS and those disciplines it investigates, reacted to or incorporated the findings of STS? As far as efficacy, what has resulted from STS research, publication and intervention (these three areas might serve to define “STS scholarship”)? Do the results match the goals? If not, why not? Finally, how adaptable are the goals of STS? Do they lose significance if abstracted beyond their initial context—the case study, the policy, the historical moment? An assumption here is that STS scholarship should not be so narrow as to serve only the idiosyncratic interests of its practitioners. Instead, STS scholarship should have broad applications and impact on society, just as its objects of study, science and technology, do.
Finally, because STS takes place in multiple forums, its practitioners need a varied skill set that will allow them to participate in multiple discourses, including public debate, academic writing and various governing activities (from local to national and international levels). Furthermore, STS should be part of multiple curriculums in the academy, including the natural and social sciences, engineering and the humanities. This means that university students in these areas of study should take courses in STS as part of their required classes. The skills they learn will help them communicate with others in their area and the broader public (this last terms needs much more explanation—I am inclined to use Philip Wander and Dennis Jaehne’s definitions on p. 219 of their article “Prospects for a Rhetoric of Science”).
A philosophy of STS, therefore, needs history, political science, rhetoric and sociology in order to achieve its purposes. STS scholarship does not aim at objectivity; it should not be “scientized.” However, the products of STS scholarship should have broad reach, and this means its arguments must be crafted and publicized with clear intentions. As D. McCloskey (1990) has emphasized regarding economists, STS practitioners need training in metaphor and storytelling. If STS scholarship proposes policy reform, then its arguments need more than fact and logic; the arguments must appeal to multiple audiences on multiple levels. STS practitioners are experts, but their expertise is broad rather than narrow.


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