14 August 2013

Review: Objectivity by Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison

Trade paperback, 501 pages
Published 2010 (originally 2007)
Acquired and read October 2012
by Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison

In their landmark monograph, Daston and Galison examine the visual practices of scientific epistemology in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, arguing that the development of these practices goes hand-in-hand with the development of the scientific self; these practices are needed because the scientific self is being conceptualized in certain ways (5-7), because “it is fear that drives epistemology” (49). If the scientist is afraid of being self-interested, then scientific sight must become disinterested. Daston and Galison are quick to articulate that their project is a disinterested enterprise itself, concerned with “what objectivity is – how it functions in the practices of science,” not objectivity as a praise- or blameworthy concept (51). It's an exhaustively thorough undertaking, and their concepts almost immediately illuminated for me some of the differences in the way that scientists are portrayed in the nineteenth century, with their distinctions between truth-to-nature and mechanical objectivity. Daston and Galison say that they imagined their “study as a beginning rather than an end” and hope it will lead to other histories being written (6)... one of those histories might be mine, someday!

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