Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Miss Delphine

All roads lately have been leading to Joseph Cornell.  Reading from Charles Simic's collection of ekphrastic poetry about Cornell, Dime-Store Alchemy, I came across this a poem-/essay-type-thing titled "Miss Delphine."  According to Simic, the titular woman (full name Delphine Binger) apparently "collected goose, turkey, and chicken wishbones so she could boil them and polish them and then decorate them with charms and ribbons.  She sent them to presidents, movie stars, famous politicians in the same way Cornell sent gifts of scraps of paper and odd objects to ballerinas he loved" (6).

I had to know more about this Miss Delphine.  So I looked around.

From the June 1939 Popular Science

Also this:
The Bone Collector
From the May 24th 1954 LIFE Magazine.  The original caption reads, "Old bones from spinster's collection form a wishbone web.

Will wonders never cease?

I also discovered the little cut-and-pasted movies of Mr. Cornell today, too.  Here's a good one called By Night With Torch and Spear:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Readings and Interpretations IV


All the previous “Readings and Interpretations” have focused primarily on the readings from class or readings tangentially related to class.  This week, though, I think it’s time I get started writing about the research project I’m currently working on.  A problem is, though, that this is a collaborative project I’m doing with a couple other doctoral students and some professors, and I don’t think I should write so publically about our ongoing research.  So I think I’ll keep the details vague about our project in this week’s post, and I’ll probably finish this journal in a different format that would allow me to go into greater detail about the specifics of the project.
I’m excited about the project because it deals with writing in the hard sciences, which is a topic I’m very interested in.  It’s a subject that can be examined from a lot of different perspectives, and we (the other researchers and I) are keeping our options open at the moment.  We’re not limiting our scope to only the rhetorical, genre, or pedagogical activities involved in science writing, but we’re reading the extant literature that looks at these activities in the sciences.  So we’re well aware that all of these activities are important, and we’re keeping them in mind as sorts of secondary studies that we might attempt after we’ve gathered our data and finished our primary study.  In other words, there’s a lot that can and will be done with the data we’re going to gather and analyze.
The group met this morning to work out a plan for the next month, and one of my questions was if, before we start gathering data, we should set some categories of things to look for.  I’m new to this kind of study, so I was glad to learn that I wasn’t the only one wondering about this.  But we decided that we’ll approach it as more of a grounded study in which we formulate hypotheses as we move from data to codes to concept to categories to theory.  Of course we all have hypotheses working in our heads, and we all expressed one or two just in casual conversation during our meeting, but I think it’s best that we keep these hypotheses out of our early stages of research to keep ourselves from somehow leading or shaping our data to fit our preconceptions about it as we collect it.  This decision to take a grounded theory approach has us questioning our assumptions from the outset, and this questioning has already proven useful.  I’ve noticed that I have a lot of preconceptions about a type of writing that, I have also noticed, I actually know little about.  I’ve caught myself making generalizations about how scientists think about writing that I simply have no right to make.
It’s invigorating to work with a motivated group of people.  Every research project I’ve ever done was completely solo—me and books and articles and a Microsoft Word document.  I didn’t really think of myself as a particularly good collaborator, and I didn’t really think I would like collaborating.  But I was wrong about that.  I’ve come to the realization lately that a lot of aspects of my writing/researching process that I thought I was certain about are not as set in stone as I believed.  I had a way of doing things, and I thought that deviating from that way in the slightest would throw everything into disarray.  I am a much more adaptable, flexible scholar than I ever thought.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Readings and Interpretations III

We talked in class on Wednesday about Egon Guba’s use(s) of the term objectivity in his contribution to his own edited book The Paradigm Dialog.  Guba talks about it in the Kantian sense, as in opposition to subjectivity.  A more interesting way to think of objectivity is as a driving force behind choices made in the research and representation processes and really most of the choices of scientific researchers going back, as Michell does in his article (“The Quantitative Imperative: Positivism, Na├»ve Realism, and the Place of Quantitative Mehods in Psychology), to the get-go.  Guba writes that “postpositivists counsel a modified objectivity, hewing to objectivity as a “regulatory ideal” but recognizing that it cannot be achieved in any absolute sense” (21).  And I think considering objectivity as a “regulatory ideal” is a really good way to think about it, and I think that’s how scientific researchers have thought about it for a very long time—well before the ascendance of those known as the postpositivists.  Contrary to what Guba seems to be suggesting here, though, I don’t think many serious people have made the claim that they have “achieved” it (whatever that means).

Objectivity is a fascinating concept—especially when it’s traced historically.  I’ve read up on it quite a bit lately in Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s work (exemplified in their co-authored book Objectivity and their article “The Image of Objectivity”), and just last night I came across Daston’s introductory essay to Biographies of Scientific Objects, wherein she writes:  “In contrast to quotidian objects, scientific objects are elusive and hard-won.  Historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science do not confuse quotidian objects with scientific objects.  They have however been locked in a debate between realism and constructionism that implicitly draws upon the obduracy of quotidian objects” (2).  She goes on to say that, according to a strictly realist point of view, scientific objects are “discoveries, unexplored territory waiting to be mapped,” and from a purely constructivist view they are “eminently historical, but not real”—they are inventions (2-3).  Daston proposes an “applied metaphysics” approach to science that “posits that scientific objects can be simultaneously real and historical,” and that works to “blur the distinction between invention and discovery” (3).

It occurred to me during our class discussion that objectivity, as a “regulatory ideal,” is the force that has determined what objects are worth classifying as scientific objects at least as long as it (the term “objectivity”) has been a part of the scientific lexicon.  Objectivity is the desire to show the importance of objects to people who might not recognize such importance in them.  It is the desire to emphasize one or more particularities of an already-deemed-scientific object that is felt to have been under-emphasized.  The “objective world,” in this sense, is understood as the interesting world.  It is not achieved, but examined.

This all was (and kind of still is) pretty hazy in my mind, so I went back to Daston’s book to see if I could get some clarity.  I found the following argument, which I think gets at what I’m trying to get at, in Hans-Jorg Rheinberger’s contribution “Cytoplasmic Particles: The Trajectory of a Scientific Object”: “If the process of gaining experimental knowledge is to be understood as a discourse that has shaped the modern sciences, and whose special relation to the real remains an issue, then it is worth trying to understand its ‘objectivity’ in terms of the peculiar ‘objecticity’ it confers on its objects.”  In other words, considering scientific objectivity as being about scientists trying to identify a reality that exists independently from their subjective experiences through careful experimentation is only partially correct.  It is more about these scientists placing an object under the (metaphorical or not) microscope so that it might later be placed under another microscope again.  Objectivity, in this sense, is about arguing that this is worth considering as an object of scientific inquiry.  In this sense, it is a “regulatory ideal,” but not really in the way Guba thinks it is.