Traduction automatisée, revue par Olusegun Afolabi
The sociological anchoring of concept. Thoughts on objectification relationship
This article examines how concept, which is presented as a linguistic and methodological tool through which it is possible to grasp reality, acts as a means by which a meaning is conveyed and objectively apprehended. It highlights the fact that concept and thought must be approached according to an inseparable relationship by which recognition of world objects is possible according to its socio-historical roots. Moreover, this perspective highlights the fact that concepts are never neutral, that is, they are imbued with a normative and ideological content that is peculiar to « epistemological » culture, as well as the spirit of the time which is part of their dialectical construction. And since this context is intrinsic to world knowledge industry, any researcher wishing to gain access to reality must take into account the « cultural » nature of the process by which « reality » is possible, by taking into consideration the universe of meaning on which human thought is based. It is in the light of these considerations that the reflections elaborated in this article seek to shed light on the social nature of any knowledge project, following the socio-historical anchoring of the objectification relationship that underlies any conceptual designation and its related thought.
Neutrality for what? Towards a historicization of scientific rigour
Epistemology as a field of knowledge concerned with the study of science, has placed great emphasis on the « internal » conditions for the production of scientific discourse, in particular by focusing on concepts such as truth, logic, objectivity or neutrality. I propose to briefly complete this « internal » analysis with an « external » approach to scientific knowledge. Historicization therefore seems to me to be an important condition for showing two things in relation to the issue before me here, that of neutrality: first, neutrality as an imperative linked to the deployment of a certain knowledge can be linked to certain socio-historical conditions. Moreover, this neutrality takes extremely varied forms depending on the institutional and disciplinary configurations that we are interested in. To drive home my point of view, I use Aristotle, Bachelard and Feyerabend to show that the path is not linear and that in each of these authors, we can find arguments for a recognition of multiple forms of knowledge and even a certain heterogeneity of scientific knowledge. I conclude by arguing that even Feyerabend’s revolutionary proposal of an anarchist theory of knowledge is insufficient in the context of a political analysis of science and that there is a need for an « epistemic shift » that is only beginning to be seen.
From the impossible axiological neutrality to the plurality of practices
This chapter explains the achievements of Feyerabend’s thinking in terms of contextualizing scientific truths subordinate to implicit purposes or utilities. Then, I put his thinking in perspective with regard to the most recent conclusions of mathematicians concerning the limits of their own science: incompleteness, increasing undecidability (Kolmogorov), etc. I then present some examples of the mathematical debates and controversies that attest to the non-existence of axiological neutrality in the very process of mathematical creation. The chapter ends by indicating the paths of a dialogue based on an open and plural rationality, i.e. a praxéology contextualizing discursive reason based on Gunnar Skirbeek’s remarkable book – A Praxéology of Modernity.
On the ideal of neutrality in research. Bachelard, Busino and Olivier de Sardan put into dialogue
Julia Morel and Valérie Paquet
Assuming that neutrality in social science research is unattainable and that it is necessary to be aware of it, this paper focuses on the manifestations of this bias in the complex and heterogeneous process of graduate communication research. Based on an approach dominated by the constructivist movement, this study focuses on the writings of three leading authors in the social sciences: Gaston Bachelard, Giovanni Busino and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan. The concepts of epistemological rupture, proof and finally the dynamics between the ethical and emancipated dimensions are at the center of this reflection and make it possible to bring additional elements to the initial observation. These three authors are linked to different social science disciplines, yet reach similar conclusions: neutrality is difficult to achieve. Through a dialogue between these authors, this paper attempts to answer the following question: to what extent does being aware or conscious of non-neutrality allow us, as a masters in communication students, to compensate for our personal and structural research bias?
When results contradict hypothesis. Interrogating neutrality in the production of knowledge about the brain
In this article, scientific neutrality is analyzed from results’ production work in the field of neuroscience. My case studies attest to strategies that aim to produce « positive » results, i.e. in line with the researchers’ initial prediction. The valuation of « confirmatory » results also leads to the concealment of certain anomalies perceived as less « publishable ». Do-it-yourself (DIY) practices and secrecy around certain data reflect the influence of publication policies on scientific knowledge production.
Colonial and (post)-colonial translations through the test of neutrality
From time immemorial, history has been incomplete. I would even dare to say that historiography is still an unfinished business. Historiography is also subjective because it is written in a specific context. Tejaswini Niranjana (1992) only accentuates this subjectivity when she insists on proofreading and back translation from a (post-)colonial perspective. It explains how the choice of words changes from one context to another and thus how translation strategies are deployed by colonizers as well as by those clamoring for decolonization to achieve their objectives. Indeed, translation can be manipulated to serve a colonial or decolonization project. This chapter proposes to explore the degree of neutrality of this achievement in the light of recent research on colonial and (post-)colonial translations. The aim is to demonstrate how the translator’s subjectivity, decisions and motivations are linked to all the contextual elements highlighted by theorists.
Peer reviewing practices: No neutrality
Peer review of scientific and technical publications has always been subject of controversy and multiple prejudices since its inception. Being obviously a human operation, it is not possible could to abandon this propensity to judge not just the text submitted itself but the author of the submitted text himself as well. These prejudices have multiple and varied origins (national, religious, ad hominem – personal -, aesthetic, ideological, etc.) but one of these reasons seems to be becoming more and more preponderant, as we can see more clearly since the opening of the evaluation process in several reviews. This has to do with the prejudices that women encounter in their quest for publication and their participation in editorial boards whose purpose is to evaluate the research submitted. Analysis of these prejudices tends to indicate a kind of ostracization and exclusion of women when they submit an article and when they sit on editorial boards. This chapter attempts to examine the articles submitted by women are treated in some scientific journals, as well as women’s place on their editorial boards. Could the openness increasingly used by peer review help to reduce these prejudices and make scientific publication and its direct corollary (peer review) a little more neutral?
Facts, science and communication. A dialogue on climate science in Trump’s era
Pascal Lapointe and Mélissa Lieutenant-Gosselin
This chapter proposes three texts in one. First, it presents Pascal Lapointe’s point of view on the work of science journalists and what he teaches us about science communication in this era of « Fake News ». This is followed by a dialogue initiated by the reaction and questions raised by Mélissa Lieutenant-Gosselin, a doctoral student in public communication and co-director of this book. The reaction and questions are those of a convinced constructivist who sees science as a tool for human emancipation and shares with Pascal Lapointe the conviction of the need for better communication of science. The text ends with the first author’s answers to the second author’s questions. We hope that this three-part text will allow readers to reflect with us not only on the neutrality of science, reality and facts, but also on ways of speaking and representing science.
The amorality of institutional positivism. The epistemology of the bond as resistance
In this chapter, I reflect on the social and ethical effects of the injunction of axiological neutrality that lies at the heart of « institutional positivism », the name I give to the hegemonic normative framework of the globalized regime of science and knowledge in the contemporary world. By defining moral feelings and the soul as harmful to the activity of knowledge creation, by making scientists incapable of understanding that feelings, values and commitments are essential to authentically human thought – linking and connected to a common world – this injunction plays into the exclusion of this type of thought in scientific activity which it thus normally makes amoral. Because of the symbolic place of science and expertise in the collective culture and imagination, this normalized amorality contributes to normalizing indifference to the other, in the name of truth or performance, in a world marked by neoliberalism where concern for others is already poorly valued, if not ignored and despised.
A journey to insolence. Unmasking scientific neutrality in research training
Maryvonne Charmillot and Raquel Fernandez-Iglesias
Our objective is to deconstruct positivist grammar by unmasking so-called scientific neutrality. We call on apprentice researchers to initiate a journey towards insolence and to question the established scientific order. Do the rules for the production of scientific knowledge leave room for the experience of researchers? Can researchers detach themselves from the social world to define their relationship to the object under study? The construction of scientific knowledge is governed by conventions and the resulting injunctions lead to a kind of intellectual conformity. These implicit rules and the injunctions they entail seem self-evident: they are the only way to guarantee scientific production. That we learn to question them, and we will discover that the sciences are plural and that they leave room for criticism of the dominant scientific order. This learning is part of the comprehensive research perspective. From this epistemological posture, we question scientific practices and place ourselves in opposition to the power systems against which we are fighting. To do this, we adopt a system-by-system approach and propose insolent research actions.
The neutrality in environmental sciences. Reflections on the International March for Science
The question of neutrality in environmental sciences is of particular interest; biophysical sciences and human sciences coexist and intersect, revealing marked epistemological divergences. An International March for Science was deployed for Earth Day 2017 in 38 countries following the initiative of American scientists concerned about the positions of their new government, particularly on climate change. This unusual event – scientists taking to the streets to defend their contribution to society and the world – highlighted the need to open a space for discussion between actors in the field of environmental sciences about the meaning and scope of the research carried out. While the primacy of the positivist paradigm is clear from the discourse surrounding the event, as it is above all a question of the « neutrality » of a « fact-based » science « that benefits all humanity », the communication was not monolithic and one of the national organizing committees even argued that « science is political ». Based on the analysis of this recent mobilization, this chapter proposes a discursive deconstruction of the axioms and semantic choices that shape environmental sciences. There is indeed a need to question the implicit and explicit foundations of scientific projects in this field, to raise the consequences of such axiological premises and to propose more ecological, anchored and dialoguing scientific approaches. The scale of the current socio-ecological crises – including climate change and the massive extinction of species – is indeed likely to challenge us throughout our being towards this important reflection.
Does neutrality mean silence? French political science through the test of non-violence
While France has an old tradition of non-violent protest, it lacks an academic debate on non-violence. In political science, very few scientists have explored the subject beyond some historical references or referring to English-language texts. The works are scattered, all over the place and are often produced on the sideline of the university. Nevertheless, this paradox is understandable if we take into account the origin of the concept and the positivist heritage of French political science. Coined by author-actors such as Gandhi, King and the Dalai Lama, the term non-violence seems vague and lacks this distance between analysis and militancy that are so necessary to the academic. Moreover, since its founders were religiously inspired, the word remains connoted with spirituality, a field that French academics approach with great caution. But above all, the concept is embarrassing because it questions the fundamentals of political science, including the effectiveness of violence. This disturbing term is therefore often ignored in favor of other registers considered more acceptable, such as « social struggles », « protests » or « resistance ». However, this absence is largely due to the neutrality injunction and it comes with a cost. French academics struggle to think scientifically about both defense issues and popular revolutions. In fact, neutrality and silence cover certain prisms and taboos.
The involved sciences. Between epistemic objectivity and committed impartiality
What is the role of science and scientists in societies where, while formally democratic, a multitude of converging indices shape the management of respublica by a political-economic oligarchic caste? This caste, which is rather inclined to manage environmental resources on the basis of particular interests, does not take into account either the common good or biospheric balances. In such a context, the role of science and scientists is crucial in some questions and in relation to research objects at the interface between science and society that generate socio-scientific controversies. These research questions and objects require specific epistemic and epistemological frameworks that are at odds with traditional epistemological vulgata. Thus, it is no longer possible to address research questions and objects specific to the « sciences involved » on the basis of the dominant paradigm, which makes realistic objectivism of positivist and neopositivist origin the scientific ideal to which all researchers must adhere. This means that sciences – whose themes are not exclusively scientific, but also economic, political, ethical and more broadly socio-cultural – inevitably generate socio-scientific controversies. These controversies cannot, under any circumstances, be resolved by limiting themselves to scientific experience or « facts ». Emblematic in this sense is the development of a number of contemporary disciplines such as molecular biology, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, ecology, ecological engineering, climate sciences and their multiple challenges. In search of the multiple issues underlying the risky and critical relationships between objectivity, impartiality and engagement in the case of the sciences involved and socially lively scientific questions, the concept and ethical posture of « committed impartiality » is proposed. Such a posture would be able to guarantee a fair balance between the ideal of scientific objectivity – the scientist who adopts it will try not to be guided by his or her preferences and prejudices in the selection of theoretical and factual data – and ethical-political commitment.
Neutralisation and engagement in public controversies. Comparative approach to scientific expertise
Robin Birgé et Grégoire Molinatti
In this chapter, we propose a reflection on the heuristics opened by the overcoming of the model of neutrality of sciences in society. The perspective of three anthropology studies of knowledge and communication allows us to question the social responsibility of researchers in controversial situations and collectively build publicized expertise. The first survey allows us to expose a construction/communication of expertise from academies of science about the Séralini case, whose underlying model is based on axiological neutrality, which, according to their authors, gives certain authority to the expertise. The second investigation concerns a 2010 self-seizure of a geosciences laboratory in the south of France assessing the consequences of shale gas exploitation. Aware, for the majority of the researchers involved, of the existence of potential conflicts of interest and the impossible individual neutrality, the team collectively erased singular points of view, without publishing the methodological bias of neutralizing their heterogeneous opinions. The third survey concerns a proposal for family law reform promoted by researchers in the human and social sciences, commissioned in 2013 by the French government. The political horizon is assumed by experts who explicitly publicize committed expertise. In the latter case, the expertise has freed itself from political instrumentalization and, by assuming a committed and argued point of view, contributes, in our opinion, to enriching the public debate, without escaping a hint of authoritarianism.
Non-neutrality without relativism? The role of evaluative rationality
In this paper, I explore the manner (science) non-neutrality and objectivity or rationality could be combined, by drawing on Hilary Putnam’s philosophical work. Based on concepts such as incommensurability or paradigms, Kuhn questions science neutrality. According to some critics, Kuhn’s approach cannot be admitted for it condemns scientific method to irrationalism and relativism. However, Putnam’s work can be mobilized to show that non-neutrality and rationality or objectivity are not antithetical. A major step toward such a reconciliation is being able to give room to evaluative rationality. Based on Putnam’s response to this challenge, I defend the idea that, instead of being equated to neutrality, rationality and objectivity need rather to be built through reflexive studies aiming at the rational evaluation of investigation practices. I then highlight the value of such an approach for the articulation of science and ethics.
Understanding and studying social world. From reflexivity to commitment
Sklaerenn Le Gallo
The reflection proposed here aims to question the links that can be made, from a critical point of view, between the need for reflexivity on the part of researchers and what is considered a duty of activism in social struggles and movements. Contrary to what is held by positivist paradigm that has long dominated the field of human and social sciences, social world can only be objectified and rationalized in an abusive way. Scientists are therefore caught between their scientific research and their biographical journey. This paper presents a reflection based on the notion of the requirement of reflexivity in the analysis of the social world. Two visions of the research undertaken are then presented. First, Pierre Bourdieu’s, who invites social criticism and denunciation of the power relations that prevail within society. Then there is Michel Foucault’s, who wants to challenge a universalizing intellectual posture in favor of a « situated » intellectual reflection that carries the voice of struggles, questions power relations and opposes the truth regimes imposed within the social world.
Languagement. Deconstruction of scientific neutrality projected by dramaturgical sociology
Sarah Calba and Robin Birgé
Neutrality, in other words, the absence of bias, is an epistemological or methodological posture common in science. According to its supporters, it makes it possible to show its scientific productions as having no particular point of view, and therefore more easily acceptable and reproducible by others, or even closer to what really is. Rather than trying to affirm the impossibility of such a posture, we will try here to demonstrate that neutrality can transform the scientific project (the collective construction of knowledge) into an attempt to reveal or mediate an existing reality independently of human perspectives. To do this, we will study the epistemological formulations (intentional statements as well as formal choices) of different sociologies, in particular the one that qualifies as pragmatic and the one that we have named photographic. In response, we will propose another form of engagement that could be called languagement, namely a position taken by language, by the intelligence of what is said with the way it is said, or by a stylistic work of scientific speeches. In this way, we will defend the dramatic sociology which, by affirming the artificiality and singularity of how it is being projected, works to make its constructivist arguments, in other words its scientific fictions coherent.
Complex relationships between criticism and engagement. Some lessons from critical communication research
In this paper, we seek to analyze the complex relationships between research and social engagement. A priori, we could consider that in the case of critical research, there should be a logical complementarity between these two types of activities. However, we will see that the situation is more complex than it seems if one considers three sets of works considered critical in the field of communication studies: the Frankfurt School, the political economy of communication and Cultural Studies. We will find then that certain practices of research on the one hand, and of militancy on the other are difficult to reconcile whereas the alliance between critical research and social engagement is nevertheless more necessary than ever in order to transform our world.
Critical perspectives and studies on digital technology. In search of social relevance
Lena A. Hübner
This paper focuses on the links between research and social change. More specifically, it discusses the difficulties raised by critical posture when studying online political communication. The paper shows that this epistemological perspective leads to a dilemma: while research results aim to raise awareness among citizens, the very mechanisms of this education, if it goes digital, risk being recaptured by political and economic institutions. To overcome this obstacle, we propose that more links should be created between research and the civil society in various ways (dissemination of results, practical application in the field, etc.).
Regulate the relationship between scientific research and advocacy. A look back at a personal journey
In the light of my personal experience, I will explore the injunction of axiological neutrality in the articulations between activist activities and university research. My academic career is rooted in an activist engagement: it is my involvement in social movements that has led me to the social sciences. With this anchoring in mind, my choices of research objects have always been oriented towards my political interests and I have an affinity for the epistemologies that problematize the idea of neutrality, particularly the standpoint feminist theories and situated knowledge. Despite this, I find out that I maintain a fairly clear (albeit ambivalent) distinction in my activities between activism and research, and between engagement and neutrality. This distinction seems to me to be important from an ethical point of view, that is, in the way I approach my relationships with people whom I consider, or not, as « subjects » of my research. For example, how firmly can I take a position in a debate concerning a group whose ethnography I wish to do? Can I move seamlessly from an activist role « in » a group to a researcher role « on » this group? Do these questions have a value in themselves, or are they simply a reminder of positivism? These are some of the issues that I raise in this chapter.