Category Archives: book

Out now: Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited (MIT Press)

Representation in Scientific Practice, published by the MIT Press in 1990, helped coalesce a long-standing interest in scientific visualization among historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science and remains a touchstone for current investigations in science and technology studies. This volume revisits the topic, taking into account both the changing landscape of STS and the emergence of new imaging technologies in scientific practice. It offers cutting-edge research on a broad array of fields that study information as well as short reflections on the evolution of the field by leading scholars, including some of the contributors to the 1990 volume.

Our chapter Networked Neuroscience discusses the conditions that make brain scans authoritative visual objects and analyses three important dimensions of scans. We show how scans are increasingly parts of suites of networked technologies, rather than standalone outputs. We then trace the increasing presence of databases of scans in the constitutions of atlases and the consequences of ʻdatabase logicʼ for visualisations. The third related development is the role of scans as interfaces, where they serve to open up a range of possibilities, rather than to stand in as a fixed representation. Together, these dimensions help characterise the visual in digital and networked settings of contemporary science, and enable us to trace how the very concept of the authoritative image has been transformed.

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Archival Practices and Network Realism

With great pleasure, I’ve been reading Martin Hand‘s book Making Digital Cultures. It is a very rich account of practices that constitute digital cultures, with practices to be understood in a layered, complex sense. It’s been great to think about our investigation of database practices in relation to the concepts and fieldwork laid out by Hand in this book.

In particular, the passages about the shifts in ‘the archive’ are stimulating:

“If archival practices have been concerned to locate and fix meaning in relation to the specific contextual qualities of material things, what are the implications for this understanding of modern memory when archival things have become largely digitally mediated? What happens when these things are seen to ‘lack context’, to lack the authenticity of their analogue equivalents, where their meaning can be lost in translation? (Hand, chapter 6, page 132).”

In our fieldwork, we are witnessing and conveying the answers to this crisis, as they are enacted by actors on the ground. We seek to identify the ontologies that are effective in these settings, and to understand the work needed to  encounter, produced and interact with digital mediations. We are also interested in the  (practical) resolutions to issues of trust, authenticity, access, context, etc, so that these “things” that are known through the database can be involved in knowledge practices.

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