Rupture and Flow: The Circulation of Technoscientific Facts and Objects

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures
Indiana University, Bloomington

Comparative Analysis

The seminar pursues comparative analysis (as conventionally defined) of processes of rupture and flow in discrete historical periods and across geographical units such as nation-states. Of particular interest are transits back and forth among politically and economically powerful "centers" and diverse colonial and postcolonial regions. We also have a special interest in how historical changes in the materialities of circulation (transportation, communication, recording, retrieval) have accelerated the travel of knowledge and other technoscientific objects, thus creating greater need for translations and reengineering, and greater potential for disruptions.

But the seminar also explores the very idea of "comparison" in social and cultural inquiry, by expanding the units of analysis to formations not easily captured by historical period or geographic location. The communities that create (or receive) technoscientific objects and pass them along often transcend period and place, and the differences among them arise not just from history and geography but also from distinctive epistemic norms, economic utilities and power. Thus we compare different communities of knowledge-makers, those with the cultural authority to define truthful accounts of reality (science) and those who lack such authority (lay observers). We compare different sub-communities of scientists, to see if there are differences among disciplines in norms surrounding legitimately reportable findings. We compare communities that are distinguished by the production or consumption of technologies (realizing that the very practice of consumption may require their re-production).