LOST Research Group
Law, Organisation, Science and Technology
Making Evidence, Designing Futures
This program inquires into the production of evidence under conditions of un- certainty and how this relates to the enactment of futures. It starts from the assertion that modern public life implicates the quest for ‘matters of fact’ that are institutionally certified as objective. This quest results from the jurido-political pursuit of accountability in ordering practices, which incriminates predictability of future scenarios. As such the program is located in the anthropology of knowledge production and science and technology studies (STS). It focuses on the production of techno-scientific knowledge by investigating how evidence is made and comes to matter. We suggest that examining how certain matters of fact are certified provides crucial insights into the futures people design for the conduct of public life in the face of invincible uncertainty.
Friedrich Nietzsche delivered a dazzling description of this in 1887:
In order to have that degree of control over the future, man must ﬁrst have learnt to distinguish between what happens by accident and what by design, to think causally, to view the future as the present and anticipate it, to grasp with certainty what is end and what is means, in all, to be able to calculate, compute – and before he can do this, man himself will really have to become reliable, regular, necessary, even in his own self-image, so that he, as someone making a promise is, is answerable for his own future!1
What this program can learn from Nietzsche is to relate our research questions about the making of evidence to the frames of accountability through which ordering practices are geared towards controlling the future by organizing public life in the now. While our program maintains that institutionally certified objective reality is primarily founded in jurido-political protocols, it enquires into the limits, necessities and onto- epistemological implications of this foundation in view of their effects on emerging futures. We are also interested in how potential futures, which do not seem to emerge out of the established and globally circulating juridico-political protocols of evidence making of contemporary modernity and capitalism, can be made possible. How can they be made accessible without, by the same move, undermining the necessity and the political achievements of those protocols of evidence making used to hold people and those in power accountable?
This inquiry follows pragmatist, genealogical and post-foundational intellectual traditions asserting that we cannot found our epistemologies and methodologies to stabilize matters of fact in a reality conceived as something given prior and independently from its analytics. Speaking of Alfred Schütz, Harold Garfinkel found a catching formulation for the implicit onto-epistemological assumption: “rather than there being a world of concrete objects which a theory cuts this way and that, […] the cake is constituted in the very act of cutting.“2
In this program we examine the futures designed in the ‘very act of cutting’ as translations between techno-science, law and signification. We understand the material-semiotic practice of knowing to be situated in webs of belief and institutions, in material infrastructures, things and bodies. Here, we pay particular attention to the material and infrastructural implications of evidence-making primarily by quantification and experimentation in the fields of global health, biotechnologically modified crops, and human genetics in relation to identity and citizenship. We are also interested in the making of evidence in the nomosphere and most particularly with reference to past atrocities. Along this path we need to revisit old questions that once constituted the classical anthropological field of translation between cultures as delineated by James Frazer, Marcel Mauss, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Edward Evans-Pritchard. Their questions about multiple realities were rooted in clear and unchallenged distinctions between modern and scientific positions on the one hand, and pre-modern and pre-scientific on the other. In contemporary debates concerning translations of evidence across onto-epistemological divides these questions have re-emerged in more radical ways since all hopes of achieving absolute objectivity have gone bad. Post-foundational struggles for a better world have become more challenging and potentially self-defeating since protocols to tell good and bad evidence apart can no longer hide their political implications.
Against this background we examine if and how the jurido-political assemblage of modernity with its infrastructures, which establish and solidify certain evidentiary protocols and thereby certain matters of fact, inhibits the conditions of possibility for other realities to be envisaged. This in turn obstructs other futures to emerge on the horizon. Our program inquires into these processes as forms of ontological politics.
1 Nietzsche, Friedrich 2006 [1930, original 1887] On the Genealogy of Morals. Cambridge et al: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson, translated by Carol Diethe, page 36.
2 Garfinkel Harold (1972 ) “A comparison of decisions made on four ‘pre-theoretical’ problems by Talcott Parsons and Alfred Schuetz”. Unpublished paper, Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA (first circulated in 1960, retyped and redistributed in 1972).