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5 Knowing That and Knowing How

The other way to meet the challenge of deconstructionist theories was taking Kuhn's lesson to look at the history of science and the practices of science more seriously than Kuhn himself did, avoiding the tribute he still paid to the standard view idols. Indeed, the new philosophy of science maintained, in common with the iew it criticized, the idea that all scientific knowledge is propositional in content, and thus that all forms of knowing-how are to be transformed into knowing-that. The standard view privileged observation over theory, Khun and Feyerabend privileged theory over observation, concentrating on paradigms, conceptual schemes, and the methods they drive, but both failed to appreciate the common ground provided by instruments, experimental practices, shared skills, which makes judgments of commensurability (and incommensurability) possible. Paradigms do not carry with themselves a particular batch of instruments and experimental procedures that are understandable only in terms of that particular paradigm, but people working with different paradigms also share tools and procedures, direct experiences, and they are living in the same phenomenological world. Forerunners of this approach, under different aspects, can be considered Gaston Bachelard (1949) and Michael Polanyi (1964).

Starting from the 1980s, this new approach has challenged the dichotomy theoretical/observational by seeing experimentation and experimental techniques as central to scientific practice: science is driven by practice rather than by theory and observation, and often experiments have a life of their own, independent of theory: Ackermann (1985), Franklin (1986, 1990), Galison (1987, 1997); Gooding,

Pinch, and Schaffer (1989), Gooding (1990), Hacking (1983), Hull (1988), Pickering (1992, 1995). The authors following this approach claim that science is largely skill-based, network-based and laboratory-based and can be located somewhere between the activities of individuals and the material, cultural and cognitive frameworks which they inhabit. Therefore, they attempt to reconstruct the material culture of science, that complex networks of skills, competences, negotiations, and intellectual and material resources from which stable patterns of scientific practice and experimental results emerge. Networks of this kind embody a knowing-how that cannot be captured by the notion that understanding is a knowing-that, abstractly expressed through representational and propositional tools, like sets of models and sets of sentences. Practicing a theory is not a matter of understanding a theory's formal expressions, but is rather the business of adopting and transmitting through practice a set of mental technologies used in contextualized applications of the theory to problem solving.

For example, Allan Franklin talks of epistemological strategies, to be applied in the design of experiments, that provide arguments for the correctness of the experiment even though they cannot be explicitly defined as a set of formal rules. This kind of approach shares many themes with social constructivism and the sociological approach outlined above, but a fundamental difference is that for people like Ian Hacking, Allan Franklin and Peter Galison, experimental results are, at the end, accepted because of epistemological arguments, while people like Bloor, Collins and Pickering deny that epistemological arguments play a decisive role.

Research cultures are constructed in local contexts but then they can travel beyond the confines of the scientific communities which give them birth and make possible communication among different contexts. This overall picture can explain why translation is possible between different communities: theories, instruments, and experimental practices do not change together in one great rupture of paradigms, but usually they are changing at different times, piece by piece, and what are points of discontinuity in theory are not so in the material culture of experiments. Galison has put forward the concept of trading zone, that is, spatially located (laboratories), or virtual, zones (networks of labs connected by the web) where people meet, theoretical scientists meet experimental scientists, engineers meet scientists, scientific subcultures meet each other and where wordless interlanguages are spoken (pidgins or creole languages), that are embodied in objects and procedures. Knowledge moves across boundaries and coordination around specific problems and sites is possible even where globally shared meanings are not. Meanings do not travel all at once in great conceptual schemes or paradigms, but partially and piecemeal.

 
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