I came across this quote recently, in a book about fishing communities and economies in Iceland: “Coastal Economies, Cultural Accounts…” by Gísli Pálsson:
The scientist and the fisherman dwell in the same social world, and if they represent it differently it is not because the latter [the fisherman] remains trapped within his cultural conceptions whereas the former [the scientist] can see the reality beyond, but because their respective positions within the social world constitute them as parties with different and often conflicting interests.
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Related to this, some other recent research… a book called “Battles over Nature: science & politics of conservation” edited by Vasant Saberwal and Mahesh Rangarajan:
…any form of knowledge is embedded within a specific social context, a context that influences the process by which information is generated, processed & disseminated. Science in and of itself is no more objective or neutral than the knowledge generated and sustained within communities that use a particular resource.
The collection of information through the former [science] takes place in a more formally defined context than the latter [local knowledge], but both, ultimately are products of specific social contexts.
Further along, they suggest:
“It is when science claims to be necessarily better than other forms of knowledge, basing the claim on notions of objectivity and neutrality, and where this superiority is used by the scientific community to claim primacy of decision-making — then there is cause for concern.”
… despite the ‘rigor’ of science — a series of studies has demonstrated that the questions asked by scientists are influenced by many factors including scientific concerns of the day, priorities of funding agencies, one’s own social context, and that experimental data may be interpreted to conform to existing paradigms.
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Going back to Pálsson and his studies of Icelandic fishing communities and their move from small local fisheries to fully globalized factory fisheries and now?…. depleted runs and ‘fisheries…
(tough concept… I know… ‘no fish, no fisheries’…complicated… complex…)
… and in recent time their return to more hook-and-line fisheries as opposed to the factory mothership vacuum cleaner, by-catch tossed overboard model employed by much of the rest of the world (and supported by green-washing initiatives such as the Marine Stewardship Council)…
…I emphasize that ecological knowledge — the knowledge of scientists no less than that of indigenous theorists — is inevitably socially constructed.
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to the philosopher, philosophizing… Nietzsche:
… the base thought of science is that man is the measure of all things. Otherwise said: all natural science is nothing but an attempt to understand man and what is anthropological; more correctly, it is an attempt to return continuously to man via the longest and most roundabout ways.
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To another recent book picked up in rambling research: “Handbook of Economic Anthropology” edited by Bill Maurer:
… a mathematical formula cannot be interviewed; its makers and users can, but the results it produces can have effects unintended by and outside the control of those human agents.
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And a gool ‘ol Canadian puzzler, John Ralston Saul and his plea for common sense, albeit sometimes in a contradictory form of shouting for simplicity in some pretty dense verbiage (at times), however this rings with some ‘sense’ (from his book “On Equilibrium“):
What is common sense if not shared knowledge?
It is not understanding. Many may find this a difficult idea to accept — that we can know something we don’t understand. Not only can we know it, we can use the knowledge. We must simply be careful not to slip into superstition…
…Superstition is indeed an innate force within us. But we have qualities to help us control it. The shared knowledge of common sense is one of them. You can’t banish superstition. You deal with it. There is a surprising calm in common sense, a stubborn calm which resists the negative aspects of panic.
Take what are presented as natural economic forces. They can only exist to the extent that humans exist and therefore are not natural. The market in software would be surprisingly quiet if put in the hooves of sheep. Cattle have minimal interest in e-mail.
Economic forces must take their appropriate place as dependents of humans; more precisely, as dependent upon human characteristics in order to be shaped appropriately to our circumstances. And those human characteristics are themselves inferior to and shaped by human qualities.
Ralston Saul continues his appeal to common sense as ‘shared knowledge’ suggesting that “the complexity of shared knowledge reminds us that, if one globalization model claims to be the voice of inevitable forces, a dozen other models will appear which don’t. If humans deal with their superstitions and ideologies in an unpanicked manner, then the sensible not-inevitable models will predominate in the long run”
All of this is tied to common sense as ‘shared knowledge’.
What are these apparently “inevitable forces”?
Look no further than the “invisible hand of the market” — good ‘ol Adam Smith’s theory of economies and markets. Leave things to the free market and the ‘invisible hand’ will guide them right… (sheez, doesn’t reek of Christian Ghad overtones at all…)
Yet, the ‘inevitable’ forces of globalization, free market economies, and subscription to science as truth, are what many ideological forces fully subscribe to — especially various governing regimes such as the one currently in Canada.
“We often think of definition as the cornerstone of reason – as our protection against superstition, prejudice and ignorance. A definition is therefore intended to clarify things, to free us from action. But what we have seen in our society is that a definition can just as easily become a means of control, a profoundly reactionary force.”
And he uses a great example for pointing to the point I’m niggling away at…
… the whole idea of a society of winners — a place known above all for its best — leads with surprising speed to a narrow pyramidal social structure. And then to division and widespread passivity. That in turn leads to false populism and mediocrity; to a world obsessed by bread and circuses [think current political circus... or, professional sports... or, Hollywood starlets], Heroes and the need for ‘leadership’.
He suggests that the variety of competitions between ‘certainties’ (think of the opposition of politics and political parties in Canada), has led over the past two hundred years towards: “a civilization of structure and form over one of content and consideration. The way we come at every question is structural, managerial.”
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Let’s look at a salmon issue for example… the Terms of Reference (structural, managerial) for the Cohen Commission, as summarized in one of the interim reports: