11 Nov

Introduction to the 2nd edition of Science, Culture and Society

Posted By Politybooks

Mark EricksonWhen Polity first contacted me to produce a second edition of SCS I was, as well as being a bit surprised, confident that a small amount of rewriting and updating the references would be sufficient to the task. How wrong I was! This new edition is an almost wholly new book, and for a number of reasons. The first is simply the pace of change inside the formal sciences: chapter 2 in both the first edition and second edition focus on a single experiment in biochemistry, actually carried out in the same lab. But where the first edition’s experiment was very complex and required considerable interpretation, the experiment in the second edition is, in my opinion, breathtaking in its complexity and level of analysis. I think this is indicative of how the formal sciences, and particularly the experimental life sciences, are proceeding, becoming more complex and more focused on very specific objects. New lab techniques, particularly the easy availability of PCR and cloning techniques have also added to this complexity. But that leads me to the second significant change: we have a lot ‘more’ science now, but we don’t seem to understand it any better. Actually, I think the opposite is the case: the more science we have the less we seem to understand it. The artificial separation of arts and sciences is becoming more and more entrenched in our technoscientific society and this is leading to positions becoming fixed and uncommunicative with respect to serious problems facing society.

Climate change is a strong focus in this new edition; it is a major challenge to human societies, but the solutions that are often offered are scientific and technical ones. Why is this? Why do we keep reaching for the sci-tech solution to social problems?

One thing that I have retained from the first edition is the theoretical framework. I am still committed to using the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Ludwik Fleck to make sense of science, with a strong focus on the language, meaning construction and representations of science in the different communities, both exoteric and esoteric, of which we are members. We need to find better and more appropriate ways of communicating and understanding science in society and I hope that this second edition can make a contribution to that urgent task.

Mark Erickson is Reader in Sociology at the University of Brighton.

The second edition of his book Science, Culture and Society: Understanding Science in the 21st Century is available now, published by Polity.