Callon and Latour are the Lennon and McCartney of STS…

…and if you add John Law, then it’s like Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Bruno Latour has been more in the limelight in the past twenty years. But Michel Callon’s writings and actions are just as fundamental to Actor Network Theory and Science and Technology Studies related work.

Before I lost (or lent) my copy of Callon’s Agir dans un monde incertain – essai sur la démocratie technique I took about 50 pages of notes. I’d only ever done that once before for Jerry Ravetz’ (1972) book Scientific Knowledge and its Social Problems.  Callon’s book has recently been published in English, so I’ve just ordered a fresh copy. (This one is going to stay at home!) I look forward to rereading the English translation and will try to do a short review later this year.

Early on in the book, Callon does a brilliant, short summary of the history of modern science as a movement away from « real » nature (fields, rivers, mountains) towards « substitute » nature (laboratories, experimental set ups). Science has also moved away from being a popular activity (where doing science was accessible to many) to being an elitist activity – state of the art research today is for the happy few.  The public can go to museums, read New Scientist or Scientific American, watch Horizon documentaries or whatever. But do science? No way!  Write poetry, short stories, novels, act, play music, etc., this we can do. But science is for « real » scientists.

So it’s wonderful to see that « mere » schoolkids have been involved and active in a real Space Physics experiment in the UK.

Ben Bancroft, Jake Greenwood, and Samuel Bancroft from William Howard School in Brampton, Cumbria launched a helium-filled high-altitude weather balloon fitted with scientific measuring instruments. It flew to 31,685 metres and floated back to earth. The data are now being analysed.

This was made possible because of a Royal Society Schools Partnership grant in collaboration with Phil Furneaux and Professor Mike Kosch from the Deparment of Physics of Lancaster University.

Four observations:

1. The Lancaster Physics department is ranked #1 in the UK in terms of research.

2. Phil Furneaux has been running the Department’s Outreach programme for several years.  Outreach is about attracting young people to study Physics. Phil, the Physics Department and the schools in Northwest England organize dozens of events to open the labs up and to bring hundreds of young pupils inside and to have them working and experimenting with the researchers.  This is a sort of counter reaction to the elitism that Callon describes.  It is not a science museum visit. It’s not an open day (or even an open week like the annual Fête de la Science we have here in France). It’s a really sustained committment by the lab’s researchers to do more than publish, publish, publish or whatever it takes to be ranked top of your country’s research league table.

3. The Royal Society, founded in the 17th century and partly responsible for the hyper specialisation of science that Callon refers to, has been actively supporting schools partnerships in all kinds of scientific disciplines for the past 12 years.  660 schools. Over 1 million pounds. Why? « To ignite enthusiasm among young people in the UK ».

4. Since 1997, in France the Foundation « La main à la pâte » (roughly meaning « get your hands dirty ») has been encouraging primary school kids, schools and teachers to experiment. Small prizes are awarded every year. The Institut (more or less the equivalent of the Royal Society) amplifies this initiative but not, it seems, initiate things as actively as the RS.

A final word on Michel Callon.

His wind research wind vane model says that the the research laboratory interacts with 5 communities:

A. Fellow researchers and peers (via publications)

B. The market (via patents and expertise)

C. Higher education (via advanced courses)

D. The public good (via norms and safety standards)

E. The general public (via popularisation)

Initiatives like the Brampton sixth formers’ weather balloon mean that the Lancaster Physics Department has just enriched Callon’s model by adding an Aflat and an E sharp.

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A propos markowskikrys

I run an advanced Masters programme on project management and innovation at ESIEE
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