“… the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the working of institutions which appear to be both neutral and independent; violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that we can fight fear.”
. – Michel Foucault, French philosopher, thinker, and social theorist 1974.
This might be a little heavy of a quote to start this post, however, it also fits and melds well with the quotes that finish this post…
This post, follows up on the last couple of posts on this site: Keeping science free of policy advocacy? …Hogwash! (and irresponsible?) & Science Inc. — don’t worry though… our language is “policy-neutral”…
And this idea of ‘power as knowledge’ and ‘knowledge as power’ — an oft un-analyzed assumption and relationship — especially in this time of apparently living in a “knowledge society.”
‘Knowledge’ does not necessarily reflect power relations, nor does ‘power’ necessarily reflect knowledge relationships. However, the two certainly dance together like the split — in banana split… A ‘split’ without being a split… a split banana is not very exciting, but a banana-split… ooohh boy….
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There is this ongoing issue with “scientists” — which generally implies some sort of credentialed individual that has undergone a series of exams and tests of ‘knowledge’ within certain specializations, critiqued by a body of their peers, largely immersed in a body of knowledge and power relations that in-turn remains more-or-less un-questioned, un-analyzed, and un-critiqued.
The ‘body of knowledge’ taught within these institutions, given the ‘power’ to hand out the credentials, can often be so laden with normative values, unexamined assumptions, and often a prickliness to being questioned… at an institutional and individual level.
With that in mind…
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Last night I attended another ‘forum’ at the University of Northern BC (UNBC).
It was hosted by the University’s Fish and Wildlife Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society and was titled ‘Fisheries presentation and Discussion’ with the purpose of “discussing current fisheries issues pertaining to diseases, aquaculture and management.”
Dr. Shrimpton essentially advocating for salmon farms and aquaculture with the argument of: ‘near everything else we eat is farmed — with his example largely based on a photo of a hamburger in a bun — so why not farm salmon?’
Dr. Costello advocating that there are many risks and factors to consider when farming salmon, as is permitted on the BC south and mid-coasts. For example: that we need to feed farmed salmon other wild fish, that there are diseases and parasites, antibiotics-used, and issues of pollution and farmed salmon escaping. (Essentially many of the common arguments against open-pen salmon farming).
Both good Dr.’s presented well, and there was some decent discussion amongst students in the audience — which from a rough guess appeared to be largely undergraduate students, however I could be wrong.
Curiously, both of the good dr’s also more or less capitulated to the idea that salmon farming on the BC coast really is not a discussion of ‘either-or’ — it’s more an issue of where and how much?
It’s inevitable… basically… they say.
Humans like to eat fish, the ocean’s fisheries are dwindling, the human population is growing, we need to farm fish, just like we do crops, cattle, pigs and whatever else… they say.
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On some accounts, I can agree with this notion — however, salmon are not becoming vegetarians anytime soon (like carp, for example, which was raised as an example of farming fish in freshwater) and we will need to continue to feed farmed salmon… well… other fish.
Unless we also start farming feed fish to feed farmed salmon…
…we will need to get that feed fish from somewhere. Which means we will be taking those “feed” fish from the mouths of other wild fish.
And so on, we go down the chain…
Eventually, the gig’s going to be up…
Eventually, good ‘ol mother earth is going to call this bluff… this “anthropogenic bluff” the academics might call it.
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We are already so far down the food chain when it comes to fish we now catch and eat, as say… compared to 20 or 30 years ago — that an argument will be fronted soon enough that suggests may be we shouldn’t be feeding wild feed fish to farmed salmon. Which in turn are essentially only for well-off, wealthy consumers that can afford to buy salmon of any kind — either at the supermarket or in a restaurant.
We don’t exactly see farmed salmon being served in homeless shelters and soup kitchens…
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Thus, these arguments — and granted there was limited time to present — fronted another simplified view of the world and the issues, which seems to be a theme with ‘scientists’ over the past couple of weeks.
For whatever reason, and I’m sure some practitioner of the ‘hard’ sciences can set me straight on this, refuse to — or don’t want to — look at the larger social, economic, cultural, issues — let alone the larger biological picture.
(‘not our department… or area of special-tease’ most suggest…)
Both of these presenters alluded to human choices — as in: we can choose not to purchase these products at the supermarket. Well… unfortunately, this is a nice thought in theory, but unfortunately, the bulk of the open-pen farmed salmon produced in BC are exported to the U.S. or to Japan or otherwise.
Thus leaving local consumers with little ‘market-pressure’ options. Sure there’s a bit of a market at Jimmy Pattison’s Save-on Foods and otherwise, however, this is a small slice — with little impact by ‘boycotts’.
The companies that are farming these salmon are highly integrated, globalized, transnational companies — largely based out of Norway (e.g. Marine Harvest, Cermaq, etc. — all related to the same parent). If consumers in BC assert market pressure the companies will simply find a market for their product somewhere else.
… like China… where the discerning consumer is maybe a little more limited.
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This notion of a certain inevitable-ness, just leaves me feeling a little dirty, cheap… and… well… power-less…
and, in the logic-sense of the arguments presented, begging many questions.
Which, I should point out is not necessarily a criticism of these two presenters… they appeared to fill their ‘mandate’ for the presentation, and may very well be indoctrinated doctors…
(i don’t know them, so hard to say… and most of this post is more directed towards the establishment… as opposed to these individuals.)
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However, it’s too simplistic…. these arguments.
Similar to Dr. Lackey’s arguments at a UNBC presentation last week advocating for not advocating… with ‘scientific results’ that is.
It’s akin to the classic parental line of: “because I said so”
As in: ‘Well, why…?’
‘because I said so… I say it’s inevitable…so just accept it…’
Again, not necessarily the position of the two good Dr.’s last night but an implied feeling of ‘power’-less-ness…
Something, these days, definitely not akin to Nessie the Loch-ness… ‘power-less-ness’ is a serious affliction in our ‘globalized’ society…ever-present… especially with those not holding the power… (like those not learning via institutionalized-knowledge avenues… electric avenue…)
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I asked a few questions, and made a few comments, last night — related to past posts on this site regarding salmon farming — about whether people in BC are willing to accept the risk of having multinational, transnational companies utilizing our coastlines to farm, grow and process an invasive species, to in turn export it wherever they like.
What happens when diseases like infectious salmon anemia (ISA) wipe out both farmed salmon — as it did in Chile, taking thousands of jobs with it — and when the various inlets and island-shorelines adjacent to farms can no longer take the constant influx of food waste, antibiotics, sea lice, and whatever else comes with ‘farming’ carnivores?
Do we just inevitably accept that our backyards are there to be utilized by multinational companies?
…companies that will essentially come to BC for dinner, eat-and-run, and leave the toilet unflushed, not to mention your toilet paper supply diminished, and probably a couple of unpaid phone bills…
An “economy” is simply a system of exchange.
In this case BC, is basically accepting a few jobs (fewer that pay well), and a few tax dollars, yet offering up our coastlines, inlets, bays and other areas to produce a product that is being shipped elsewhere for the benefit of well-off consumers, far, far, away…
This being said, without getting in to the issue of un-settled treaties with First Nations in BC.
Yet another complexity… a political element… yet a biological element, yet a knowledge element… yet a power element… yet an institutional element that is difficult to institutionalize…
…First Nations have an entire set of knowledge, values, and science that is not accepted and respected in the mainstream science world, in the hallowed towers of academia and ‘hard’ science departments. In the institutionalized institution that people pay big bucks to attend to become institutionalized power-holders, knowledge-holders…
Even Dr. Shrimpton said it last night: “there is no proof of any wild fishery actually being sustainable”…
Yowsers, I was caught off guard by the comment.
How does the good dr. think the more than 1 million+ indigenous people of coastal western (and eastern and northern) North America survived off of, for thousands and thousands of years?
Oh right… fish… and other marine critters.
Must have had an element of sustainability to it, because there’s a variety of ‘proof’ or evidence of villages that have been in coastal areas for a long, long, long time.
Not to mention the immense ‘fishery’ that occurred up and down the Fraser River – for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.
Must have been sustainable in some form… and probably larger than the average commercial salmon catch throughout the 20th century…
(OK, academia-ized assumptions aside… more on this below)
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What about this notion of ‘sustainability’ in an ancient sense?
Or this idea that … indigenous people have an entire set of knowledge, values, and science that is not accepted and respected in the mainstream science world, in the hallowed towers of academia and ‘hard’ science departments.
Is this not a knowledge-power schism…?
Or, at least if it is discussed in academia, it’s generally a matter of jamming, ‘integrating’, and the old round pegs, square holes cliche, etc. etc. With academia doing much of the ‘jamming’ and ‘mashing’ of pegs… such as in the plethora of Chairs of First Nations departments at Universities around the country… who… aren’t in fact First Nations themselves.
Where does the power lie in that relationship…?
(How would the University Fisheries Management program feel if they had a Chair that was not a ‘fisheries scientist’…? Or an English Department with a Chair that doesn’t speak English…?)
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Here are a couple of quotes that I’d like to share that provide a certain round-up of some ideas discussed on the last few posts.
Here is an old quote, found on a shelf at the UNBC library, from a book published in 1972, – Science and Politics in Canada. G. Bruce Doern, 1972 McGill University Press
The more one attempts to examine the growing interrelationships between science and politics, the more one becomes addicted to the reality that everything depends on everything else. The science and politics relationship is critically influenced by the role of universities; it will become increasingly a factor in the central aspect of Canadian politics, federal-provincial relations. It will alter and blur the conventional distinctions between the private and public sectors.
[don’t have to look much further then my last post and corporate sponsorship of Canadian University Research Chair positions to see that prediction came true…]
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…Essentially, discussing system theory. Everything is connected to everything else.
What a thought…
Do you think Universities, government, and otherwise will be forming: “Departments of Everything is connected to Everything Else”… anytime soon.
You know, like the implicit idea behind that of an “ecosystem”…
Coming from the Greek word for ‘home’ oikos… eco… our ‘home’system…
Try and wire your home stereo system without a few key components. Or take one out… don’t work so well…
If you take something out, it has an impact throughout the system. Or if you put something in that wasn’t originally there…
Throw in a woofer and bass your soul away… toss in a tweeter and shrill your hearing away…
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We, society, can’t go around accepting scientists spouting off about ‘policy neutral’ science (and I’m not necessarily referring to the two scientists that spoke last night) when we know darn well that “science” is laden and laced with values.
Plus, if you look at the webpage of these two scientists that spoke last night, the preeminent scientist Dr. Lackey would shudder at the ‘normative’, non-policy-neutral language present on their websites:
things like Dr. Costello suggesting: “My interests lie in the application of science-based research to the management and conservation of native fishes in Canada”
Dr. Lackey argues, this idea of “native” vs. “invasive” implies a policy preference.
Bad….in the good Dr’s eyes…
Dr. Shrimpton suggesting: “My long term research goal is to develop methods to mitigate deleterious changes to the environment that impacts fish and implement management…”
Oh, oh… not policy-neutral according to Dr. Lackey.
This suggests a bias towards ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ changes to the environment (e.g. like a dam)… must say “changes”… not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘degradation’ or ‘improvement’ or ‘deleterious’… just “changes”…
Again, not a criticism of these two, at least they’re real, and have an opinion, and don’t hide behind some ‘normative’ curtain of true-object-ivi-ty…. and they certainly aren’t “transparent”… I could see them really well… right up front… and walking around a lot in the case of Dr. Shrimpton… no, not ‘transparent’…
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‘Science’ comes from the Western, predominately ‘white’, reductionist view of the world. Trace it back far enough and it comes from the crazies that were trying to turn lead into gold.
This is not to say that it doesn’t have a place and a purpose. Often that place is even an important one.
The current form of institutionalized education also comes from Western, predominately white-European roots.
The problem is that ‘science’ and “scientists” (whatever exactly that is…?) seem to generally want to have their cake and eat it too… just as we all do to a certain degree.
The common assertions:
“We’re ‘independent’… we’re ‘transparent’ (which I’m not so sure about, because generally I can see them…) and our work is ‘reproducible’…”
Science, of course, is not value-free because it is a human enterprise, but this fact does not make all science normative…
[ Dr. Lackey: “information that is developed, presented, or interpreted based on an assumed, usually unstated, preference for a particular policy or class of policy choices.”].
…Policy-neutral science is a way of learning about the world and it is characterized by transparency, reproducibility, and independence.
-Dr. Robert Lackey, fisheries scientist.
The practice of, the institutionalization of, the credentialing of, and practice of… ‘science’… who can do it, how, where, when, and why… how to communicate it, where, when, why, etc. etc.
Who’s science is better, who’s is more neutral… best-est neutral-est.
… misses the point, really.
…And so does forgetting that knowledge is essentially power, and power is knowledge. Even more-so when these are institutionalized, concentrated, espoused to young minds and thus proliferated eternally as the ‘right approach’…
knowledge-power squared…or cubed… (as the “to the power of” saying goes with exponents).
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I came across a very fitting quote in a paper out of Australia, Bruce Rose suggesting in relation to this idea that humans can ‘manage’ the ecosystem and the critters in it — through the practice of ‘science’ of ‘management’:
This is monologue masquerading as conversation, masturbation posing as productive interaction; it is a narcissism so profound that it purports to provide a universal knowledge when in fact its practices of erasure are universalizing its own singular and powerful isolation.
This is the danger that ‘scientists’ walk… on the tightrope stretching across their ivory towers… some definitely engaged in a hot and heavy monologue, and others in a good, hot & …errr… solid ego-masturbation…
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Everything is connected…
…to start suggesting that there is an ability to become separated from the politics, from one’s own cultural assumptions that fed theories and scientific data in the first place, from data that needs to be interpreted through some lens (even if it’s one’s own eyeball lens), data that then needs to be given voice (e.g. advocated — see previous post for etymology/roots of the word), etc., etc.
The problem with taking the high moral ground, is it means the eventual ‘fall from grace’ is that much further down to the mere commoners sense… or the flood that floats one off that high ground is all the more devastating.
Even the simple term “management” comes imbued, laced, water-logged, and full of various assumptions (oh, oh, that same indicator of normative science).
In previous posts I have traced the etymology/roots of this word in English, which relate to the Latin word: manus or, hands.
It also traces back to Italian maneggiare “to handle,” especially “to control a horse.”
And so in the scientific sense, this idea of ‘controlling’ something is the implicit assumption ever-present in the term “management” — no matter whether that is ‘fisheries management’ (which is more about managing fisheries than it is ‘the fish’)
or wildlife management, or ‘human resource management’… or [insert other field here]
(“human resource”… resource defined as: “An available supply that can be drawn on when needed”… ain’t that the truth… how’s your job security…?)
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Another fitting quote:
In the case of wildlife management, the dominant management discourse often assumes that both ‘wildlife’ and ‘management’ are universal concepts and practices, and consequently renders the privileging of management as the foundational concept for organizing social and environmental relationships on the ground invisible as an exercise of power over local indigenous systems of thinking and being-in-the-world.
This silences, ignores and devalues the multiple knowledges of the peoples whose existing relationships and discourses become the objects of management. With these knowledges made invisible, the assumption that management is universal is legitimated.
Thus, even when wildlife management is conceived of with the best of intentions and implemented as effectively as possible, fundamental and generally hidden assumptions reinforce colonizing power relationships.
— “Rethinking the building blocks: ontological pluralism and the idea of management.” Richard Howitt and Sandra Suchet-Pearson, Geografiska Annaler 88(3): 323-335.
Or, to even go a little more obscure… one of my favorite BC manipulator of words (who comes with no shortage of controversy in his work):
Home is alive, like a tree, not skinned and dressed or cut and dried like the quarried stone and milled wood houses are made of, nor masticated and spat out like the particleboard and plywood used for packaging prefabricated lives.
A house is not a home the way a mask is not a face. But a mask is not a mask if it can’t be read as a metaphor for the face, nor a house a house if it can’t be seen as the mask of home.
Home is the whole earth, everywhere and nowhere, but it always wears the masks of particular places, no matter how often it changes or moves.
— Robert Bringhurst, ONE SMALL ISLAND A CASE STUDY IN THE CONTEST BETWEEN HISTORY AND LITERATURE
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With powerless-ness comes fear. With power exertion comes masks…
Science is a mask (e.g. ‘hide behind the science’), which would not be a mask if it did not have the institutions to provide an anchor for its shape, for its assumptions, and its purported value-less practice.
It is practiced (and credentialed) for the very fact that it has a value, just as does a mask (especially if you’re a hockey goalie).
In turn, the institutions – with the power – provide it a house, which is not a home.
The institutionalized continue to wear the mask, as if it is a face.
A metaphor is “something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else”…
…just as science is often used as a mask for knowledge…
and yet it is… when institutions say it is… And thus, it can be used to objectify, marginalize, and reduce… other knowledge.
Knowledge that has a home. Knowledge that is everywhere and yet nowhere. Ever-moving and shape-shifting and powerful.
Never universal. Never in isolation.
Times need to change… everything is connected, and our common sense and our uncommon sense and our ‘scientific’ sense, must operate from that reality.
As much as some religions might suggest so, the earth and its systems were not put here to be ‘managed’ just for our benefit… nor can this blind faith of ‘management’ so institutionalized throughout society, continue to operate un-questioned…
how’s it done so far, for example, in ‘managing’ the fish and the ‘fisheries’ of the oceans over the last 150 years or so…?
Stop the mask-erading… stop the masturbation…
Start the questioning of old assumptions, start the process of removing masks, start the process of respecting all knowledges… and shape-shift the power, power up the shape-shifting, and shift the shape. Current institutionalized knowledge is far too square. Show me a square in a natural system… any ‘system’…
New bumper sticker: “Don’t be a squarehead…”
(… especially if you have a round hat…)