Knowledge Production and the Ethical Subject: The Paradox of Objectivity

James Brackley

4-6pm, Monday 6th June, 118 Muirhead Tower

University of Birmingham

This introductory talk will explore understandings of realism and objective knowledge, as argued by science and technology scholars, and ask the difficult questions of what these understandings mean for a complex and dynamic social world; for social construction and social reproduction; and for our subjective construction as understanding, acting, ethical subjects. By drawing on the latest understandings of quantum and non-classical physics, and famous thought experiments of the 20th century, we will try to break apart the dichotomies structure-agency, natural-social, subject-object, human-nonhuman, and explore the consequences of a general realist concept of ‘performativity’. It is hoped that a grounded realist philosophy of relativism, uncertainty, and co-production will have profound implications, not just for more sophisticated research, but for political practice as we move beyond acknowledgement of the material in relation to (or opposition to) the discursive and towards a resolved understanding of a unified material-discursive.

The session will particularly focus on the act of construction (of groups, of people, of words, of scientific apparatus, of bodies, of gender); will introduce the concepts of ‘performativity’, the ‘material-discursive’, ‘diffractive understandings’, ‘actor’, ‘power’ and ‘agency’; and will look to provoke a pragmatic discussion as to the usefulness of these ideas to us as engaged political subjects.

“It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena… but together they do” Einstein, The Evolution of Physics, 1938.

About James:

James Brackley is a lecturer in Accounting at the University of Birmingham Business School. He is working on a PhD project on Public Health activities in local authorities, with a particular focus on the ongoing negotiations of value and legitimacy of Public Health in an austerity context. He is an active member of the UCU trade union, the Fight Against Casualisation in Education, and is on the national committee of Socialist Students. 





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