Empiricist Interventions: Strategy and Tactics on the Ontopolitical Battlefield
Keywords: intervention, empirical philosophy, compositionism
AbstractRecent papers by prominent scholars in science and technology studies (notably John Law and Bruno Latour) have crystallized a fundamental disagreement about the scope and purpose of intervention in actor-network theory or what we here choose to bracket as empirical philosophy. While the precept of agnostic description is taken as a given, the desired effects of such descriptions are highly debated: Is the goal to interfere with the singularity of the real through the enactment of multiple and possibly conflicting ontologies? Or is it (also) to craft new and comprehensive common worlds supported by notions of due process and parliamentary procedure? In this paper we think about this disagreement as a question of research strategy (a normative discord about the desirable outcome of an intervention) in order to assess its implications for research tactics (a descriptive accord about the practical crafting of an adequate account). A key point here is to challenge the impermeability of such a division and show how the strategic dispute, if to be taken seriously, invariably spills over to swamp the level of tactics. To illustrate this point, we draw upon materials from our recent doctoral research projects and to facilitate the discussion we make two deliberate caricatures: Firstly, we operate with a simplified history of actor-network theory in which a strategy of epistemological critique has been replaced by two contending agendas for ontological intervention. Secondly, we address these two contending agendas as distinct options which map on to the positions of our two main interlocutors. In doing so, it becomes possible to compare their respective tactical implications as we work through two examples of what might constitute an empiricist intervention.
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