STS502 002 / PHIL561A 001: Topics in Science and Technology Studies – Expertise and Ignorance

Winter 2019 Term 2
Instructor: Dr. Alison Wylie
Class Meeting Time and Place: Mondays, 2:00 – 5:00 pm, BUCH D324
Office Hours: weekly hours TBD and by appointment:
Course Website: TBD

Having leveled the playing field, demonstrating that science is an inescapably social enterprise, a growing
number of science studies scholars have expressed alarm that the pendulum of constructionist critique
has swung too far. Scientific knowledge shouldn’t be presumed authoritative because it transcends the
contexts of its production; a principle of symmetry demands that the accomplishments of the sciences, as
well as their failures, be explained in terms of social dynamics and cultures of practice. But neither should
scientific expertise and its products be reduced to wishful thinking and the political machinations of
Merchants of Doubt who deliberately undermine confidence in our best, most credible science – about
climate change, for example. The focal question for this seminar is: how do we move beyond the impasse
created by constructionist arguments that seem to entail a paralyzing relativism?
We’ll start with a selection of classic essays by dominant figures in science studies, like Latour, and
Collins and Evans, who address this question in terms of challenges to claims of expertise. We then turn
to consider the range of different types of “ignorance” investigated by contributors to a recent literature on
“agnotology” (the study of ignorance); readings here will include selections from Proctor’s Agnotology
(2008), Tuana’s 2006 special issue of Hypatia on “the epistemology of ignorance,” and the 2017
Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. In the final section of the seminar we will explore recent work
on expertise, with a focus on “interactional” and cross-field expertise as characterized in the collection
edited by Collins, Evans and Gorman, Trading Zones and Interactional Expertise (2010). We will close
the term with readings on standpoint theory and collaborative practice. These illustrate how interactional
expertise can be used to mobilize the epistemic resources of diversely situated knowers in a constructive
response to the worries about corrosive relativism that provoked the “third wave” STS debate with which
we started.
Format and requirements: this will be a reading-intensive course with the emphasis on seminar
discussion. The requirements will include regular reading response posts, in-class presentations, and a
research paper that addresses questions about ignorance and/or expertise as they arise in a particular
controversy, case study, or field of interest.