Articulating


Articulating is the act of linking together language, observations, experiments meanings, actors, things and non-things into situated knowledges and practices. The concept thusly named is used most extensively in Mike Fortun and Herbert J. Bernstein's Muddling Through, but articulating, in its many forms form, is part of the major practice of contemporary science studies.

In Muddling Through, Fortun and Bernstein combine the linguistic and anatomical senses of the word “articulate” to create a composite meaning-making mechanism that characterizes scientific practice. When talking about language, to articulate is “to give words to, to try to express, describe, or invent something that wasn't previously a part of language or thought” (p. 39). In anatomy or mechanics, an articulation is a joint or a movable point that splits a body into positionable segments. In this sense, articulation is the mechanized form of a theory, it is “corporeal, an organic or mechanical (or some hybrid, in-between form of these) structure in which different parts meet and rub up against each other” (p. 39).

Taking these two senses of articulation, Fortun and Bernstein imagine theories as a sort of interconnected bodies that link together into “lobsterlike entities made out of disparate, heterogeneous elements” (p. 40). This is set off against the inductive model of scientific theory as a lens through which scientists view the world. “The sciences are “science” not because they reflect or transparently transmit the world, but because their many articulated connections enable them to crawl around, clutching and poking, within that world” (p. 40). Science can't be conceived of as a purely mental, representational phenomenon; it exists in the mangle of practice.

Articulation is a tool for exploring realitty, the setting (as well as protagonist, antihero and love interest) of Muddling Through. Realitty is “a muddle, or complex assemblage, of material, social, cultural, linguistic, technical and other forces—although those things are just the provisional names, too—that constitute what is frequently called reality” (p. 32). Instead of the constant, external, das Ding an sich world of reality, Fortun and Bernstein are concerned with the world of realitty, the protean and time-dependent world formed in and formed from experimental practice and thought styles. Scientists don't seek out the underlying truths of the external world, as exciting as that conception of science can be; their work can be better understood as “a matter of re-producing realitty so that it can be worked on and experimented with” (p. 33).

Articulation can be understood as a kludge job, a means of using whatever is at hand to piece together a functional system. In this sense, “meaningful articulations are themselves articulated with old and new experimental protocols and observational methodologies, technologies for manufacturing and imaging, and the social institutions (universities, corporations, courtooms) in which these articulations are produced an interpreted” (p. 72).

Ludwik Fleck describes a similar set of practices in The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, his 1935 genealogy of the Wassermann Reaction, one of the first syphilis tests in modern medicine. Fleck recounts how scientists developing the reaction articulated concepts of illness with concepts of morality and contagion, proto-ideas of blood, germs, sex and punishment. For Fleck, science and knowledge are composed of the complex interactions between scientists, their thoughts, the world, and their apparatuses.


Historically, [the Wassermann Reaction] appears as the only possible junction of the various trains of thought. The old idea about the [tainted] blood [of syphilitics] and the new idea of complement fixation [as a diagnostic method] merge in a convergent development with chemical ideas and with the habits [of perception and behavior] they induce to create a fixed point. This in turn is the starting point for new lines everywhere developing and joining up with others. Nor do the old lines remain unchanged. New junctions are produced time and again and old ones displace each other. This network in continuous fluctuation is called reality or truth. (p.79)


In Barbara Hernstein Smith's reading of Fleck, he asserts that “the statement or belief that we call truth and may experience and describe as corresponding to reality might be better described as extensively and effectively linked to and congruent with what we otherwise experience as stable, resistant and real” (2005, p. 51). With his network in continuous fluctuation, Fleck is describing an articulation of truth along the reverberating, reflexing, changing lines of practice. In Fortun/Bernstein terms, Fleck's thought styles are realitty, articulated along the expansive pathways of scientific practice.


Fifty years after Fleck's Genesis, Donna Haraway uses a different articulation to describe a similarly netted image of science as founded on situated knowledges. The Harawayan model of scientific thought highlights the knowledge producer rather than the network, but her model of scientific knowledge is similar. Her account responds both to the positivism that sprang out of the Vienna circle to which Fleck was tangential, and to the relativism that Fleck's work was later pulled into.


The science question in feminism s about objectivity as positioned rationality. Its images are not the products of escape and transcendence of limits (the view from above) but the joining of partial views and halting voices into a collective subject position that promises a vision of the means of ongoing finite embodiment, of living within limits and contradictions—of views from somewhere. (590)


Haraway's situated knowledges are analogous to the individual thought styles of Fleck, and in the joining together of those knowledges create the network in continuous fluctuation. Haraway emphasizes the contradictions of the network, while Fleck emphasizes its harmonizing.

References

Fortun, M. & Bernstein, H. J. (1998). Muddling through: Pursuing science and truth in the 21st century. Washington, DC: Counterpoint.
Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575-599.
Smith, B. H. (2005). Scandalous knowldege: Science, truth and the human. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.