Hopeful comparisons on the Brink of the grave

Common Knowledge 17 (1):77-81 (2011)
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Abstract

This commentary on Isabelle Stengers's article “Comparison as a Matter of Concern,” takes its entry point in a battle between comparisons: imposed comparisons, where extraneous, irrelevant criteria are laid down, and active, interested comparisons, where rapport is established between the scientist and the phenomenon she studies. According to Stengers, the comparison, which establishes rapport, is a crucial ingredient in good science. In the context of a symposium titled “Comparative Relativism,” perhaps the crucial point to make about what characterizes Stengers's matter of concern is that, in being utterly uninterested in defining absolute scales for comparison and in focusing only on the generative potential of comparing, she relativizes the very act of comparing. What matters to her is how experimental devices simultaneously sensitize their users to the phenomena at hand and to the workings of particular comparisons. Since (a relativized) comparison is a matter of concern to the scientists involved, finding out what other ways of comparing there are (besides objectivist comparison) should be a matter of concern to those of us who are engaged in studying knowledge production. This commentary suggests that “knowledge economy” researchers begin unpacking the science/industry collaboration through participation and careful analysis as a way of staying with the present moment

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