Let the games begin!


Thanks to everyone who attended the first program meeting of the year yesterday evening. It was conducted at a brisk gallop so that the more masochistic among us could go home and watch the debate.

Welcome to the new cohort! They are Rachel Fox, Gabi Schaffzin, Angelo Haidaris, Alanna Reyes, Bobby Edwards, Trischa Tschopp, Carolina Mayes and Stephen Reynders.

Some noble souls volunteered: Bobby Edwards and Rachel Fox will be in charge of the vote for the student choice speaker. Davide Carpano and Carolina Mayes will be the Graduate Student Association representatives. And Rebecca Hardesty, whose intellectual mission it is to bring philosophy and science studies into a more fruitful dialog, will organize a student conference for Spring this year. As for the faculty, the departmental representatives are David Serlin in Communication, Cathy Gere in History, Kerry McKenzie in Philosophy and Martha Lampland in Sociology.

The colloquium will begin next week with Emma Frow from Arizona State University talking to us about synthetic biology. Anyone interested in the cutting edge of the life sciences should find this a really rewarding session. Her talk is entitled “Making big promises come true? Negotiating standards and value in synthetic biology,” and it examines how engineering principles were used in the development of the ‘BioBrick,’ the prefabricated modular unit for building synthetic cells. (Please note how nicely the title fits with the ‘Future-Casting’ grant idea below.)


Grant Idea: Scientific Future-Casting at UCSD


Accurate prediction is a canonical aim of science. Perhaps the most dramatic example was the confirmation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity during the solar eclipse of 1919. It turned out that light from the stars was, indeed, bent by the gravitational force exerted by the sun to the extent predicted by Einstein’s theory, a phenomenon too vast to be testable on earth. The cosmic theater of that moment, when day became night and Einstein’s prediction became visible against the darkened sky was a grand performance of the analytical powers of physics.

While prediction lies at the heart of scientific method, Science Studies @ UCSD is interested in thinking about some less iconic aspects of scientific forecasting, namely prognostication, prophecy and promising. We argue that these are powerful drivers of scientific practice, but that their action is less well characterized in the philosophy of science. There is good reason for this neglect. Unlike prediction, these looser forms of future-casting stand somewhat athwart science’s self-image. They constitute the arts of persuasion rather than of proof, and are more bound up with power, money, and politics. Above all, because of the well-deserved prestige of the natural sciences, these are rhetorical practices with very real material effects. Metaphorically speaking, the relationship between canonical scientific method and these speech acts might be thought of as an epigenetic one. If prediction and replication constitute the DNA of scientific method, these looser forms of future-casting are its epigenome, a switching system that turns laboratory production on and off.

At UCSD, we find ourselves in an exceptionally rich field for investigating how rhetorical projections of the future affect scientific production. Most importantly, the much-vaunted entrepreneurialism of the institution gives us ample opportunity to study how the often extravagant promises made by scientists to angel investors, philanthropists, state funders, and, indeed, our own students, stimulate (or suppress) scientific activity. On a slightly different scale, the presence of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography allows us to consider the politics of prognostication in the environmental sciences, which has devolved into a bitter battle over the virtues and vices of capitalism, as investigated by our erstwhile colleague Naomi Oreskes. The Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Human Imagination provides us with a forum for considering which science fictions are later realized as fact, allowing us to probe questions about creativity and science, and about the relationship between science and art. Using the theory of performativity – an analysis of the grammar of the self-fulfilling prophecy – we will explore the myriad ways in which scientific infrastructures get made and unmade at UCSD through promissory speech acts.  

Grant Idea: radical cartography project



Where the hell did this crazy place come from?

One of the most pressing topics in Science Studies is colonial “world-making.” We seek to understand how the technoscientific world that surrounds us came into being. How is it that we came to dwell among these kinds of laboratories, hospitals, communication technologies, and forms of transportation? What are the roots of modern university pedagogy? How – and for whom – is nature transformed over time?  Understanding that science and technology have been pivotal to colonial expansion, science studies scholars have investigated the material processes by which European technologies and political systems came to dominate the globe, starting in the sixteenth century. We seek, above all, to understand and ameliorate the ongoing prejudices and inequities that are produced by this dominance.

UCSD is a fascinating site of colonial and scientific world-making. Founded in 1960 and mostly constructed out of flimsy reinforced concrete, it sits on a hill in La Jolla surrounded by the homes of billionaires. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean to the west and to the south the San Diego-Tijuana border, reputed to be the steepest economic precipice in the world. Its student body is predominantly Asian, while approximately 77% of its faculty is both white and male. Since the 2010 ‘Compton Cookout,’ a ghetto-themed party at a frathouse off campus, it has been rocked by the racial controversy that has erupted during Obama’s presidency at most elite American universities, with the interesting twist that the racist fraternity in question was a South Asian one. It has graduated the highest number of science fiction authors of any American university and houses the oldest Cognitive Science department in the world.

Our plan is to map the intellectual ecology of this place, showing how world-making unfolds in time through the material, epistemic, and textual practices of science. Our method constitutes a form of “radical cartography.” The word “radical” comes from the Latin for “root.” Applied to our mapmaking, it evokes both the historical dimension of our proposal – we will be mapping change through time – and the moral urgency that we bring to it – our belief that the decolonization of the university is urgently demanded by the lessons of history.  Maps have often been used for the purposes of colonial world-making. Radical cartography summons the ghosts of those who were despised, excluded, and enslaved in the making of this world of ours, in order to help us bend the arc of our institutions towards racial justice.

We propose to construct an interactive digital map, consisting of two layers. The first layer, which defines the geographical extent of our inquiry, will consist of the 1769 map of the territory of the Kumeyaay Nation, stretching from Escondido to Ensenada along the coast, and extending inland to the Colorado River. The second layer will be the satellite map of the same area today. The U.S.-Mexico border bisects this territory almost exactly in half, and provides a most instructive example of colonial infrastructure. Both maps will feature the same series of icons denoting different themes: immigration, health and medicine, eugenics, treaties and borders, etc. Clicking on any of the icons will take you to a website narrating the colonial world-making of that particular area.

The idea is for UCSD artists, humanists, and social scientists to collaborate with the Kumeyaay Nation on deepening our historical, sociological, and spatial awareness of the area in which we work. By adding icons and stories to the map, we will come to understand how Kumeyaay land transformed into the modern technoscape – how one map turned into the other through time. We will be applying for money for graduate students and post-docs to work on the map, looking especially for young bilingual and bicultural scholars accustomed to crossing the borders that divide our world. The project will help build ties to Mexican and Native American local historians and will fit into the ‘Understanding Cultures and Addressing Disparities’ focus at UCSD.