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Archive for March, 2014

Biologist and science historian Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, in a warning statement, has argued that the focus on micro-(his)stories has come at the price of forgetting about developments and effects that have a (long) duration[1]. With regard to dynamic agentive systems, the focus on micro-perspectives (and methodological individualism) must be viewed equally critical. A middle-range, grounded approach cannot exchange micro for macro, and so on. To do so would run the danger of an uncontrolled universalization of the researchers’ particular perspectives, imputing them into the mental spaces of research subjects, which are then no longer viewed as ‘involveds in practice regimes’ but as ‘deficient theorists of their own practices’ – paraphrasing Robert Schmidt[2] on the praxeological approach. The methodological discourse of semantic agency theory (SAT) can be considered to be part of the practice turn, which is also an empirical turn, according to Robert Schmidt – but it is a turn that would do well to take into account the affective turn (Clough), embodied cognition (Noë, Pitts-Taylor), and general ecology (Parisi, Hörl).

With R. Schmidt, the PI takes seriously praxeology as including sport activities, screen activities, and workplace activities, united by the idea that practices involve bodily and mental practices to allow creation of an alternative to a dichotomy of body and mental space; also, practices are inherently public practices in this perspective. But against this prevalent mode of praxeology, an SAT perspective, particularly one that aims to be politically relevant, must extend its methodological scope further, which is reflected in the four-step process. The successive movement from macro to micro, from a ‘synoptic view-from-above to a micrological look at the details’ (R.Schmidt) is not enough. To draw political (durational) consequences, we must make a move back to a higher macro-level. After the synoptic view and the micro-stories (both important steps), we need a step back onto the level of political analysis, which in SAT one understands not as a speculative step or as abstraction, but – attuned to Critical Realism – as a move undertaken through abductive reasoning on a methodological level.


[1] Rheinberger, H.-J. Epistemology of the Concrete. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010

[2] Schmidt, R. Soziologie der Praktiken. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2012; also: Knorr-Cetina, K. Schatzki, T., v. Savigny, e. eds. The Practice Turn in contemporary Theory, London: Routledge, 2001; Schmidt, R. “Re-describing social practices” in: Niewöhner, J. Scheffer, Th. Thick Comparison. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

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Biological psychiatry, neurocognitive research, and developmental systems biology have opened productive lines of questioning and created fertile opportunities for intervention. But in working in isolation from the humanities and social sciences, they have squandered potentials. In a ‘Memorandum towards reflexive neuro-sciences’,[1] a recent critical appraisal of the 10th anniversary of the Manifest,[2] which was a co-production of ten of the most internationally influential German researchers in the field of neuro-cognition in 2004, the authors asserted that the paradigm of pure neuro-research had failed to deliver any of the promised results in research, diagnostics, and therapy advancement.[3]
They propose, instead that the actual potential of the neuro-sciences and the prerequisites for developing it into programmatic efforts for research and applications, is imbricated with social consequences.
Thereby the authors of the 2014 Memorandum emphasize that the main problems of neurocognitive research, which can be identified archetypically in the Manifest were on the one hand its reductionist orientation and disciplinary isolation: Reducing all aspects of human social life, intellectual and cultural achievements to brain performance and proclaiming this as the new ‘human condition’ represents a one-sided bias that whisks away the many layers that human beings as subjects and persons participate in. It is, the authors state,[4] always the  person as a whole who perceives, considers, decides, remembers, and so on, and it is not ‘a’ neuron or ‘a’ cluster of molecules; this kind of reductionism as well as any merely associative interdisciplinarity, stands against the idea of transdisciplinarity, of a discursive and reflexive neuro-science, that is able to critique its own premises and recognizes its limits. As a consequence, it is suggested that we need, on the other hand, integrative interdisciplinarity that requires both scholars from the humanities and social sciences to be open to empirical sciences and  brain researchers to let go of any trace of disrespect for non-experimental sciences.

The aim of my recent work (for its empirical side I presently trying to get funding for myself and a prospective team) is to take this second consequence seriously in the development and deployment of a research tool in the social studies of science, but I aim to go further, in developing the research agenda to respond in an integrative fashion to four interrelated challenges for empirical and theoretical social sciences: the challenge of a sociology of culture and cognition (Karen Cerulo, John Levi Martin, and others)[5] , the new empiricism and affective turn in sociology (Patricia Clough, Victoria Pitts-Taylor, Luciana Parisi, and others),[6] the enactive turn (Alva Noë and others),[7] and post-foundationlist political theory (Oliver Marchart and others).[8] These questions are inter-related because of the acceleration of the processes configured on the one hand between biomedicalization (Adele Clarke)[9], biopoliticization (Nikolas Rose, Paul Rabinow, Adriana Petryna)[10] and proliferation of techno-imaginaries (Joan Fujimura)[11], and on the other between contagion-like digitalization (Jussi Parika)[12] and techno-somatic involvement in the form of body-screen couplings (Ingrid Richardson)[13].

What unites both these complex, transformative processes is the notion of an underlying algorithmic architecture (Luciana Parisi) that is not either biological or digital nor merely associative but deeply integrated, which is why I have along with my American colleague Sabrina Weiss called this, in recent publications on ‘mindfulness is a matter of care’, a state of biodigital citizenship. In short, what biopolitical citizenship means as a social ontology and what kinds of actually practiced power relations bring forth and govern biodigitality as a subjectivity are the research program that this project aims to develop paradigmatically and also methodologically, in the form of an empirical social research-tool particularly suited for this task.
This project, overall, takes seriously the possibility for a sociology of extended&embodied cognition, which is responding to ideas such as most recently laid out by philosopher/cognition&robotics researcher Andy Clark:
‘I think the real attraction of the extended mind story is that the activity upon which  mindfulness depends is much more spread out than we thought. Maybe our ongoing use of     things like [smartphones] and other sorts of external structures is really part of creating a web     of activity, where mind is what happens when that web happens[14]’.

Instead of webs of activities, terms such as  relational ecologies or  afffective ecologies are, however, more appropriate, for they apply to the interfacial modalities and somatic incorporations that derive in body-technology relations (to quote Richardson), to the  technologies of attention

‘described as both cultural and cognitive technologies […] called the science and technology of the digital, the coupling between societies, technologies, bodies and psychic apparatuses becomes a common question for most of the disciplines, which concern themselves with all kinds of social agents’ (Stiegler)[15],

or relations and networks rather than individuals and wholes (Atiken)[16], and affective relationalities in communities of organisms in communication with one another (Hustak/Myers)[17].

Media-theorist Erich Hörl[18] suggests to study this as a general ecology in the form of a – following Gilbert Simondon – Third Cybernetics. The PI has suggested, along with his junior colleague Weiss, utilizing ideas about the figuration of the Third from Michel Serres and[19] Gesa Lindemann[20] and the notion of empathy as a three-person model by Fritz Breithaupt[21] to establish the notion of a general ecology as a cybernetics of Thirdness instead.
To matter politically in any way, such a venture could or even should be seen as situated in STS (Social Studies of Science), because current conditions of human-relevant interventions must consider that the structures and environment for human agency and behavior are influenced and constituted in forms of techno-scientific governance. Secondly, to study how relevant knowledge is and could be produced discursively and reflexively (for example in an integrative interdisciplinary future neuro-science), it is STS, sociologies and philosophies of science as  disciplines that have the task to reveal the production, application, and the limits of techno-scientific knowledge, governance, and interface modalities.
It matters politically, because outcome-oriented policy-making, for example in (mental) health care reforms, digital privacy protection, as well as interdependent zones such as biobanking, requires that political actors, including affected populations obtain (a) conceivability of the scope and possible outcome of policy-measures and (self-)agentic potentials within that scope (i.e. political imagination),  (b) individual decision-making for/against participation, and (c) an understanding of the indicators of positive outcome for individual participation (e.g. Well-being, HrQoL), and (d) a complex notion of responsibility[22]  for (a)-(c).
For the emerging paradigm for a sociology of extended&embodied cognition to matter politically, it  must, therefore, create an understanding of decision-making and political imagination, and the tools to do so. This is what this what my current projects in SAT (semantic agency theory) aim to deliver.


[1] https://www.psychologie-heute.de/home/lesenswert/memorandum-reflexive-neurowissenschaft/
[2] http://www.gehirn-und-geist.de/alias/hirnforschung-im-21-jahrhundert/das-manifest/839085
[3] While some cynical commentator’s have pointe out that some of the original authors of the Manifest, like Günter Roth or Christian Elger have added to their successful, government-funded research careers very lucrative ventures in the form of business consulting based on the notions of neuro-leadership and -economics.
[4] AS’s translation
[5] Cerulo, Karen A. 1995. Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of a Nation. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
———. 1998. Deciphering Violence: The Cognitive Structure of Right and Wrong. New York: Routledge.
———. 2002. Culture in Mind: Toward a Sociology of Culture and Cognition. New York: Routledge.
———. 2006. Never Saw It Coming Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Holland, Dorothy C. 1998. Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Cambridge, MA [etc.]: Harvard University Press
Martin, John Levi. 2000. “What Do Animals Do All Day? On the Totemic Logic of Class Bodies.” Poetics 27: 195 – 231.
———. 2006. “Jointness and Duality in Algebraic Approaches to Dichotomous Data.” Sociological Methods & Research 35 (2): 159–92. doi:10.1177/0049124106290444.
———. 2009. “The Formation and Stabilization of Vertical Hierarchies among Adolescents: Towards a Quantitative Ethology of Dominance among Humans.” Social Psychology Quarterly 72: 241 – 264.
Ruane, Janet M. 2012. Second Thoughts: Sociology Challenges Conventional Wisdom. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Pine Forge Press.
Urrieta, Luis. 2007. “Figured Worlds and Education: An Introduction to the Special Issue.” The Urban Review 39 (2): 107–16. doi:10.1007/s11256-007-0051-0.
Mukerji, Chandra. 2010. “The Territorial State as a Figured World of Power: Strategics, Logistics, and Impersonal Rule*.” Sociological Theory 28 (4): 402–24. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2010.01381.x.
———. 2011. “Jurisdiction, Inscription, and State Formation: Administrative Modernism and Knowledge Regimes.” Theory and Society 40 (3): 223–45. doi:10.1007/s11186-011-9141-9.
Caraballo, Limarys. 2013. “Identities-in-Practice in a Figured World of Achievement: Toward Curriculum and Pedagogies of Hope.” Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 28 (2). http://journal.jctonline.org/index.php/jct/article/view/364.
[6] Pitts-Taylor, Victoria “The plastic brain: Neoliberalism and the neuronal self
”Health Vol. 14/6, 2010; Clough, Patricia T. 2008. “The Affective Turn Political Economy, Biomedia and Bodies.” Theory, Culture & Society 25 (1): 1–22. doi:10.1177/0263276407085156.
Clough, Patricia Ticineto. 2000. Autoaffection: Unconscious Thought in the Age of Teletechnology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
———. 2009. “The New Empiricism Affect and Sociological Method.” European Journal of Social Theory 12 (1): 43–61. doi:10.1177/1368431008099643.
Clough, Patricia Ticineto, and Jean O’Malley Halley. 2007. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Durham: Duke University Press.
Clough, Patricia Ticineto, and Craig Willse. 2011. Beyond Biopolitics: Essays on the Governance of Life and Death. Durham: Duke University Press.
Parisi, L. 2007. “Biotech: Life by Contagion.” Theory, Culture & Society 24 (6): 29–52. doi:10.1177/0263276407078711.
Parisi, Luciana. 2004. Abstract Sex Philosophy, Bio-Technology and the Mutations of Desire. London; New York: Continuum.
———. 2013. Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
[7] Noë, A. Out of Our Heads. New YOrk: Hill and Wang, 2010
[8] Marchart, Oliver. 2007. Post-Foundational Political Thought. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
[9] Clarke, A. et al, eds. Biomedicalization. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011; Clarke, A.E. Situational Analysis. London:Sage, 2005
[10] Petryna, Adriana. 2002. Life Exposed: Biological Citizens After Chernobyl. Princeton University Press; Rabinow, Paul. 2008. “Artificiality and Enlightenment: From Sociobiology to Biosociality.” In Anthropologies of Modernity, edited by Jonathan Xavier Inda, 179–93. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.; Rose, Nicholas. 2007a. The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University press. Rose, N., Abi-Rached, J.M. Neuro,  Princeton: Princeton UP, 2013.
[11] Fujimura, Joan H. 2011. “Technobiological Imaginaries: How Do Systems Biologists Know Nature?” In Knowing Nature: Conversations at the Intersection of Political Ecology and Science Studies, edited by M.J. Goldman, P. Nadasdy, and M.D> Turner. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Fujimura, Joan H, and Jane Calvert. 2011. “Calculating Life? Duelling Discourses in Interdisciplinary Systems Biology.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 42: 115 – 163.
[12] Parikka, Jussi. 2007. Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses. New York: Peter Lang.
———. 2010. Insect Media an Archaeology of Animals and Technology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
[13] Richardson, Ingrid. 2005. “FCJ-032 Mobile Technosoma: Some Phenomenological Reflections on Itinerant Media Devices.” FiberCulture 6. http://six.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-032-mobile-technosoma-some-phenomenological-reflections-on-itinerant-media-devices/.
———. 2010. “Faces, Interfaces, Screens: Relational Ontologies of Framing, Attention and Distraction.” Transformations 18. http://www.transformationsjournal.org/journal/issue_18/article_05.shtml.
[14] Interview w. A.Clark and D.Chalmers,in: New Philosopher, February 2014, at: http://www.newphilosopher.com/articles/interview-david-chalmers-and-andy-clark/
[15] Stiegler, Bernard. “Relational Ecology and the Digital Pharmakon.” Culture Machine 13, 2012
[16] Aitken, Stuart C., and Li An. 2012. “Figured Worlds: Environmental Complexity and Affective Ecologies in Fanjingshan, China.” Ecological Modelling 229 (March): 5–15
[17] Hustak, C. Myers, N. “Involutionary Momentum: Affective Ecologies and the Sciences of Plant/Insect Encounters” in: differences 2012 Volume 23, Number 3: 74-118
[18] Hörl, Erich. 2012. “Luhmann, the Non-Trivial Machine and the Neocybernetic Regime of Truth.” Theory, Culture & Society 29 (3): 94–121
[19] Serres, M. The Parasite. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota UP, 2007;Serres, M. Atlas. Paris: Flammarion, 1997
[20] Lindemann, Gesa. 2007. “Medicine as Practice and Culture: The Analysis of Border Regimes and the Necessity of a Hermeneutics of Physical Bodies.” In Biomedicine as Culture: Instrumental Practices, Technoscientific Knowledge, and New Modes of Life, 6–47. Routledge.
———. 2009. “From Experimental Interaction to the Brain as the Epistemic Object of Neurobiology.” Human Studies 32 (2): 153–81. doi:10.1007/s10746-009-9111-
[21] Breithaupt, Fritz. 2012. “A Three-Person Model of Empathy.” Emotion Review 4 (1): 84–91. doi:10.1177/1754073911421375.
[22] There also is the question, what kind of speaker takes responsibility for enunications of justice, who is the “I” in the “We” in enunciating justifications, to speak with Axel Honneth (and Rainer Forst).   Honneth (Das Ich im Wir. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010: 51ff., translation AS) states this aporetic situation, which an SAT approach actually could help understand and thereby dissolve: There probably is a general consensus that liberal democratic societies rest on on normative premises that call for a legal equality of the individual autonomy  of all citizens; and the even the extension of this demand will meet with support, namely that such principles of legal and political equality  make demands on economic redistribution, that must make it possible for those who less well off, to make use of their state-guaranteed rights.

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