CEFRES Epistemological Seminar
Where & When: at CEFRES library, Na Florenci 3, on Thursdays 3 and 24 March, 7 and 21 April, and 5 May 2016, from 4:30 to 6 PM.
Convener: Filip Vostal (CEFRES & FLÚ AV ČR).
Whereas in the Epistemological Seminar I, we reflected upon various perspectives on interdisciplinarity in a broad theoretical sense, the present seminar series will be more ‘pragmatically’ and perhaps even practically oriented. Critically engaging with multiple commentaries raised in our discussions last semester, PhD students affiliated with CEFRES will explore selected themes through the grid of interdisciplinarity practice and/or discourse. This seminar thus accounts for unique milieu in which doctoral students are encouraged to articulate their own distinctive approach towards interdisciplinary and/or/through specific topics and research trajectories.
3 March 2016 (Edita Wolf)
The Notion of Interdisciplinarity in The Postmodern Condition
While grand narratives constructed by the means of metaphysical philosophy legitimate the modern condition of knowledge, incredulity toward metanarratives characterizes the postmodern condition. In his seminal text, Jean-François Lyotard explores the process of de-legitimation of knowledge claims vis-à-vis the end of grand narratives and the parallel emergence of a new legitimation secured in terms of performance and efficiency in the field of knowledge production. The system of disciplines rooted in speculative discourse is thereby replaced by practice justifiable only by the principles of performance and efficiency. On the basis of Lyotard’s text a revision is needed in relation to contemporary debates on theory of interdisciplinarity, where interdisciplinarity becomes either a political exigency or a notion that should yield a deeper meaning to the present status of knowledge production. Thus interdisciplinarity seems to work as a substitute for the old philosophical notions that is detached from the actual workings of today’s science. A re-reading of The Postmodern Condition, that is of an announcement of the end of the discipline of philosophy by a philosopher, will bring us to a reflection on interdisciplinarity as a particular practice that would not necessarily entail construction of a discourse of legitimation.
- Jean-François Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984 
Read the entire book or alternatively the introduction and pp.31-70.
24 March 2016 (Matyas Erdelyi)
Inventing the Right Numbers: Social Statistics, Commercial Reason, and the Public Good
The present seminar session investigates how social statistics were created, comprehended, and used for commercial and public purposes in Dualist Hungary. It explores different modes of quantification, the inter- or pre-disciplinary sights of scientific production, and power relations between competing expert and nascent professions. Central to this line of inquiry is the investigation of relations between statisticians and other notables (i.e. every person worth of attention and involved in the debate, be it a politician, businessman, any type of scholar) inclined to claim authority over the creation and political/economic use of social statistics. This session contributes to the overall discussions on the nature of interdisciplinarity by describing primeval workshops on interdisciplinarity and by showing how the search for timeless truths and objectivity can be deviated by political and economic interests amidst disciplinary competition.
- Theodore M. Porter. ‘Life Insurance, Medical Testing, and the Management of Mortality.’ In Lorraine Daston (ed). Biographies of Scientific Objects. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 226-246.
- Alain Desrosières. La Politique des Grands Nombres: Histoire de la Raison Statistique. Paris: La Découverte, 1993, pp. 104-111, 182-217, 226-231, 271-276.
7 April 2016 (Jana Vargovčíková)
Studying the State through the Scandal: On the Epistemic Value of Transgression
‘In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. Now, heaven knows, anything goes.’ (Cole Porter).
Far from being anomalies or mere accidents, transgressions are conditioned and given meaning by norms. Subsequently, norms repeatedly reaffirm their legitimacy and meaning in contrast to transgressions. What is considered as transgression and when transgression gains the potential of being turned into a scandal varies in time and space, as the quote suggests. That is why, given the imbrication of norms and transgressions, social scientists and philosophers have turned to cases of transgression in order to understand order, social norms and institutions, as well as to comprehend the nature of the distinction between the two (e.g. Foucault, Becker, Hughes, Goffman). Leaving normative preconceptions aside, then, a sociologist or political scientist can learn from an anthropologist and treat transgressions in the political realm as indicators of the (symbolic, but not exclusively so) structure of the state. Political scandals as narratives of events labelled as transgressive represent precisely such means of enquiry into how a political body organizes the limits of its norms (De Blic & Lemieux) and into how citizens relate to the political order (Gupta).
- Damien de Blic & Cyril Lemieux. ‘Le scandale comme épreuve.’ Politix 71 (3): 9–38, 2005.
- Akhil Gupta. ‘Blurred Boundaries: The Discourse of Corruption, the Culture of Politics, and the Imagined State.’ American Ethnologist 22 (2): 375–402, 1995.
- Chris Jenkins. ‘Transgression: The Concept.’ Architectural Design 83 (6): 20, 2013.
21 April 2016 (Lara Bonneau)
The uses of analogy in human and social sciences
It is possible to conceive transdisciplinarity as sharing of objects or methods by several disciplines. Besides objects and methods, it can also be – and this might be its first form – the sharing of a common lexicon. The tendency of certain human sciences – philosophy in particular – to use concepts elaborated by other disciplines in other contexts was sharply criticized by Alan Sokal in 1994, in what remains known as the Sokal Affair. The physicist tried to discredit the way certain philosophers were using concepts that belonged to the natural sciences, showing their ignorance about the real meaning of these concepts in their original field and thereby reducing their work to vain language games. Indeed, the use of analogy and metaphor in the human sciences can be put into question. During this session, I will try to show that, if it is not without danger, the use of analogy and metaphor is inherent to the scientific activity, which can moreover be both legitimate and fruitful. I will start with a concrete example: the way the art historian Aby Warburg uses analogy and metaphors from the natural sciences. I will then rely on a more reflexive text about the legitimacy of this method entitled Théorie de l’acte analogique in Simondon’s L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information.
- Gilbert Simondon. L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique. Paris: PUF, 1964, pp. 264-268.
- Alan Sokal. ‘A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies.’ Lingua Franca May/June 1996, available at: http://linguafranca.mirror.theinfo.org/9605/sokal.html
- Aby Warburg. Miroirs de faille, A Rome avec Giordano Bruno et Edouard Manet. Paris: Presses du réel/L’écarquillé, 2011, pp. 62, 64.
5 May 2016 (Monika Brenišínová)
Architecture and Art as Historical Sources: On the Borders of Humanities and Social Sciences
In various theoretical discussions on architecture, we may notice that there is not a singular way of approaching it. From the classical perspective of the history of art classical art historical perspective, it is possible to identify at least three basic methods of inquiry: archaeological building survey („Bauforschung“, A. von Gerkan, in Czech “SHP”, D. Líbal); style-critical and style-historical analyses (H. Wölfflin, H. Focillon, M. Dvořák); semantic analysis (G. Passavant, E. Hubala). When we consider art in general, things however get even more complicated. If we take into account the fact that even among historians of art a consensus about the definition of art as such does not exist, what will happen when we will look at art from the perspective of another scientific discipline? When we conceive art as an historical source, traditional art historical categories such as the aesthetic point of view, the author’s fantasy, the styles or commonplaces (loci communes) quickly lose their significance. Moreover, historical work with visual sources is largely interpretative and requires a significantly critical approach. Thus we suddenly find ourselves on the borders of humanities and social sciences. And it is exactly such space, outside the frontiers of clearly defined disciplines, where the space and time change their shapes and where other disciplines – such as anthropology – can be brought into play.
- Clifford Geertz. ‘Art as Cultural System.’ MLN 91(6): 1473–1499, 1976.
- George Kubler. ‘History: Or Anthropology: Of Art?’ Critical Inquiry, 1(4): 757-767, 1975.