Kristin Asdal and Bård Hobæk give a paper on Max Weber in Gothenburg
At the third Nordic STS-Conference in May 31 - June 2, Kristin Asdal and Bård Hobæk gave the paper "Parliamentary procedure and the objectivity of science: Re-reading Max Weber".
Asdal and Hobæk gave their paper as part of a session on STS and democratic politics, chaired by Irina Papazu from Copenhagen Business School. The paper was based on an earlier version of an article titled "The modified issue. Turning around Max Weber and ordinary political institutions", that has since been submitted to the Social Studies of Science.
Max Weber is an unlikely source of inspiration for work in STS. To the extent his work is read at all, it can usually be summarized as a standard image of methodological individualism and the importance of separating facts and values in science and politics. These points are part of a version of social scientific common sense, which STS has spent considerable energy opposing. As is often the case, re-reading classics reveals a different picture: Weber’s writings offer highly interesting takes on the study of politics, of scientific objectivity, and the relationship between the two. Taking our cue from a recent revival of interest in Weber as a political thinker (notably by Kari Palonen), this paper will discuss the claim that Weber’s conception of scientific objectivity was inspired by his detailed studies of parliamentary procedure. More than simply philosophical perspectivism, he also built on an agonistic view of political struggle bound to procedural rules as he had studied it in the Westminster system.
Weber’s work on parliament is concerned with the procedural tools available to balance and control different kinds of knowledge. He studied scientific and political processes in parallel, in ways that clearly resonate with later work in STS. Unlike much work in STS, however, he simultaneously avoided the reduction of politics to power play, empty speeches, or simply the other side of the science/politics distinction. Perhaps the most promising avenue this may open up is a push to pay close attention the details of political procedure and institutions. These form elaborate arrangements worthy of close study, no less than the apparatuses of scientific knowledge production. Based on our own analysis of the Norwegian parliament at the turn of the 20th century, this paper will discuss Weber’s possible contribution to a more nuanced conception of politics within STS.