Social Studies of Knowledge Practices


Science and Cultural Theory

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Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 4 b&w photos, 2 tables, 9 figures Published: June 2002

Science and Technology Studies > Philosophy of Science, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

Although much recent social science and humanities work has been a revolt against simplification, this volume explores the contrast between simplicity and complexity to reveal that this dichotomy, itself, is too simplistic. John Law and Annemarie Mol have gathered a distinguished panel of contributors to offer—particularly within the field of science studies—approaches to a theory of complexity, and at the same time a theoretical introduction to the topic. Indeed, they examine not only ways of relating to complexity but complexity in practice.
Individual essays study complexity from a variety of perspectives, addressing market behavior, medical interventions, aeronautical design, the governing of supranational states, ecology, roadbuilding, meteorology, the science of complexity itself, and the psychology of childhood trauma. Other topics include complex wholes (holism) in the sciences, moral complexity in seemingly amoral endeavors, and issues relating to the protection of African elephants. With a focus on such concepts as multiplicity, partial connections, and ebbs and flows, the collection includes narratives from Kenya, Great Britain, Papua New Guinea, the Netherlands, France, and the meetings of the European Commission, written by anthropologists, economists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, and scholars of science, technology, and society.

Contributors. Andrew Barry, Steven D. Brown, Michel Callon, Chunglin Kwa, John Law, Nick Lee, Annemarie Mol, Marilyn Strathern, Laurent Thévenot, Charis Thompson


"Complexities would be an excellent supplemental text in upper-division undergraduate or graduate courses in logic, philosophy, political science, global human-resource management, or cultural diversity. The real-world nature of the essays and the lack of clear conclusions make the selections in this book an excellent starting point for class discussions and reflective practice exercises. Used effectively, this book should aid students in demonstrating competence in synthesizing, evaluating, and judging the advantages and disadvantages of courses of behavior." — Cheryl Crozier Garcia, International Social Science Review

"These essays provide an unusually rich look at theories of knowledge put to work in several empirical disciplines." — K. Doran , Choice

"This volume begins to address a theme of increasing importance within sociology. Although it is produced form within the field of science and technology studies, it should have a broader appeal among other social scientists, including those who are interested in social theory, cultural studies, communications, management, and organizational research." — Anne Gatensby , Contemporary Sociology

"John Law and Annemarie Mol have gathered a distinguished panel of contributors to discuss how the concept of complexity might be handled—particularly within the field of science studies—without generating a chaos of further complexities. Indeed, they examine not only ways of relating to complexity but to complexity in practice." — Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society

"There is much here to provoke new thought and insight into the meaning of complexity, and the authors do show how any reduction will inevitably require a focusing that is partial and ultimately problematic. . . . Mol should be applauded for trying to see how her story might have some longer term practical utility. But the overall strength of this book lies in its posing more questions than answers-in a quite deliberate way. It is not an easy read, but then that would be asking for a simplification that would hide the very complex(ity) issues the book is trying to reveal." — Andrew Webster , Interdisciplinary Science Reviews

“Extremely timely, important, and well-defined, this book is precisely on target in focusing on heterogeneous studies that treat knowledge as local. The types of science and technology discussed are diverse and well-balanced.” — David Stump, coeditor of The Disunity of Science: Boundaries, Contests, and Power


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John Law is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for Science Studies at Lancaster University in England.

Annemarie Mol is Professor of Political Philosophy at Twente University in the Netherlands.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Complexities: An Introduction / Annemarie Mol and John Law

Romantic and Baroque Conceptions of Complex Wholes in the Sciences / Chunglin Kwa

Which Road to Follow? The Moral Complexity of an “Equipped” Humanity / Laurent Thevenot

On Space and Depth / Marilyn Strathern

On Hidden Heterogeneities: Complexity, Formalism, and Aircraft Design / John Law

In the Middle of the Network / Andrew Barry

When Elephants Stand for Competing Philosophies of Nature: Amboseli National Park, Kenya / Charis Thompson

Writing and (Re)writing Devices as Tools for Managing Complexity / Michel Callon

Cutting Surgeons, Walking Patients: Some Complexities Involved in Comparing / Annemarie Mol

The Disposal of Fear: Childhood, Trauma, and Complexity / Nick Lee and Steven D. Brown


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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2846-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2831-5
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