Crisis modeSo I'm done with my qualifying exams. Chris Bray's opinion: underwhelming, expected. But I will take it as: the most surprising development ever. Because otherwise it's nothing special. And I think that it must be something special, if only for the fact that I've been using this event to justify eating out almost every night in celebration.
However in my postprandial state, I have to think: "what's the next move?" Or as one of my esteemed professors has put it: "Now it's on to the next thing, but you are allowed to take a few days and be satisfied." I'm satisfied now. But what is the next thing?
I have nothing -- zero, zip, zilch. Hopefully this summer will give me perspective, but I have a sinking feeling it will confuse me more. So I'm here going to type a list of what I like, where I can go:
Complexity theories in the (hard, soft, and social) sciences
History of risk
Visualization in science (especially with complexity)
Practices involving uncertainty in the sciences (error analyses)
Traveling (and translating) information
Institutional history (libraries, universities, societies)
Rhetorics of science
Pedagogical practices (including reading)
Mythmaking in the sciences (such as the creation of 'genius')
Public perceptions of science (newspapers, museums, high school classrooms, magazines, "popularizations")
"Failures" in science
Is there a single topic that traverses these? I think perhaps a suitable framing of complexity theory could do this? I don't know. I'll keep you updated as things get refined and crystallized.
UPDATE: I'm trying to catch up on some old reading, and came across a keynote address by James Secord, author of the best piece of scholarship I've encountered since coming to grad school. I will spare you any gushing beyond that, but his address has compelled me to look for the "big picture" view of the discipline (of the history of science) -- a picture that I think I lost or perhaps never acquired. Since coming to graduate school, we get pieces here and there of the historiography of the history of science, but it never seemed to hang together. I've decided to, upon my return stateside, to construct my own historiography of the discipline. Not only will this help me to understand where the scholarship has gone, but it will inform me to where it could and should go. As has been made clear to me in the past 4 months: competing visions of the past reveal competing visions of the future. I want to find out where I need to go methodologically, and more importantly, why.
Secord notes in his address:
"If labels are useful in identifying emerging schools, they can also encourage new approaches to harden into orthodoxies. In this regard, the diversity and empirical grounding of most historical work has been a saving grace, especially compared with literary and cultural studies. But there are difficulties everyone has had to grapple with in practicing, reading, or challenging this form of history. One is the tendency to see the localizing of a piece of scientific work as a worthwhile end in itself. The difficulties of dealing with science as an object of inquiry have required attention to epistemological and ontological issues—a necessary ground-clearing that has been easy to mistake for actual history. The process of situating knowledge ends up as a conclusion rather than a method: the same implicit epistemological lesson, that knowledge is ineluctably local and variable, is hammered home again and again. A second danger is that an emphasis on the local contexts of science can lead to parochial antiquarianism. We think we are making grand epistemological conquests, when in fact we are studying a few practitioners of a relatively esoteric activity, whose wider importance is assumed rather than demonstrated. The best work in our field is valued for its methodological sophistication and exploration of fresh topics, but it is often seen as being exceedingly narrow." (emphasis added)
The idea of simply situating knowledge just doesn't seem to cut it anymore. It is useful, but not as an end in itself. I had tricked myself into thinking perhaps it was. I read book upon book, article upon article, whose thesis could be reduced to "science is locally situated." Great. But so what? But the conclusion that knowledge is historically and culturally situated is no longer interesting but hackneyed. And Secord is right in saying that this conclusion is not enough anymore. Inclusion of more localities, and, in Secord's works, focusing on "knowledge in transit" does appear a logical and plausible direction to go. Instead of studying the nodes of a graph, perhaps what is more important are the lines that connect them. These solid lines provide the structure.
This structure, the infrastructure (however broadly or narrowly we want to construe it), is where the future of the discipline may be -- the next historiographic turn. It lies invisible in the narratives, but needs to be "inverted" -- brought to the forefront. Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Star do good work on this in Sorting Things Out. Their notion of "infrastructural inversion" seems another way to achieve Secord's vision. Knolwedge treated as kinetic (dynamic) not potential (static). Transit not context.
 The citation is: James A. Secord, "Knowedge in Transit," Isis 95 (4): 654-672.
 To be totally and completely dorky, nothing new, it is analogous to a shift from Lagrange's system of Newton's laws to Thomson's system of Newton's laws.