The Theory of Society

I was arguing against Systems Theory today (a necessary evil when you live in Germany) which prompted the thought of searching for the conjunction of Bruno Latour and Niklas Luhmann. That led me to this gem.

It turns out that they met each other for a debate in 1996 in Bielefeld and Latour DESTROYED his opponent (full article).

Luhmann, as expected, failed to engage with the theme of the conference, Science and Technology Studies and didn’t come out of his bubble. The same bubble that he has managed to trap most of the German humanities in.

[Luhmann] only managed to address the theme of the conference—science and its sociological study—with half a sentence where he curtly asserted that science is an autopoietic subsystem of modern society.

An autopoietic subsystem, my ass. Latour quickly riposted into a frontal assault at the entirety of Luhmann-ism.

No, according to Latour, this theory didn’t have anything to offer to him and neither he concluded any of those gathered there. A quick perusal of the conference program should have sufficed to ascertain that the empirically obsessed STSers could not recover their objects in this theory. This may be bemoaned from the high vantage point of the Theory of Society as poor, theoretically “flat” sociology, nonetheless, Latour replied, this empirical Zoology of STS gives an account of this society as it is and not how it may appear from the distance of the chilling heights of systems theory.
Latour clarified that fundamentally, systems theory represents everything that he and his colleagues in science studies have been battling for 20 years—yes, really battle and not just criticize. The purification of science, the simplification of the social by a demarcation with its environment, Luhmann’s work as the embodiment of the “cognitive turn” in epistemology—for Latour these were the old buzzwords that had to miss what’s special about science: its materiality. And in doing so of course also what’s specific for modern society, the large technological networks.

Latour battling ‘the purification of science [and] the simplification of the social’, a true hero of science and society.

Fijn zo’n land onder de zeespiegel dat wordt beheerst door klimaatontkenners. En gezien het Nederlandse asielbeleid is het niet heel waarschijnlijk dat klimaatvluchtelingen elders op een warm welkom zullen kunnen rekenen.

This article about forecasting dovetails nicely with the book about measuring risk that I just read. It makes the case for foxlike thinking, something of which I don’t need to be persuaded.

Among those, they identified a small group of the foxiest forecasters—bright people with extremely wide-ranging interests and unusually expansive reading habits, but no particular relevant background—and weighted team forecasts toward their predictions. They destroyed the competition.

Tetlock and Mellers found that not only were the best forecasters foxy as individuals, but they tended to have qualities that made them particularly effective collaborators. They were “curious about, well, really everything,” as one of the top forecasters told me. They crossed disciplines, and viewed their teammates as sources for learning, rather than peers to be convinced. When those foxes were later grouped into much smaller teams—12 members each—they became even more accurate. They outperformed—by a lot—a group of experienced intelligence analysts with access to classified data.