Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Research in its Technological Setting

BiCoDa Conference

Date: June 29 - July 2, 2011

Convenors: Martin Carrier (Bielefeld), Michael Dickson (South Carolina), Alfred Nordmann (Darmstadt)

Technology is an outcome of science, on the one hand, but technology also generates problems that are addressed by scientific research. Such research is done to an increasing extent in a technological setting: it seeks to realize visions of improved intervention in the course of nature (as in nanoscience) or to fix problems created by the realization of earlier such attempts. With regard to energy resources, environmental protection, climate change or stress-induced diseases we turn to science in order to understand and solve the problems that were produced by the scientific and technological progress of the previous centuries. There are other ways in which contemporary research proceeds in a technological setting or milieu. For instance, increasingly advanced research technologies can handle complexity but also introduce so much new complexity that researchers have to progressively rely on computers to analyze the data for them. In addition, science has in part been transformed into a technology of sorts for materially changing the world according to our designs.

In 2009, philosophers and historians of science and technology at Universität Bielefeld, at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and at Technische Universität Darmstadt formed the BiCoDa Alliance ( to study ‘Research in its Technological Setting’. Since no workshop can deal comprehensively with this wide-ranging topic, the second workshop of the BiCoDa Alliance singled out several pertinent aspects.

The workshop opened with several perspectives on the political ramifications of the uncertainties that come with the management of complexity. In the case of medical decision-making, scientific uncertainty can undermine the role of experts and thereby provide an opportunity for more democratic procedures. In the politics of climate change, however, uncertainties are often exploited to manipulate public opinion. A second panel dealt with the question whether research technologies afford new paradigms of explanation and validation. The standard method of proposing hypotheses and confronting them with empirical observations might be superseded by a procedure of ‘growing explanations’ (Norton Wise) through iterative procedures in computer modeling or the science of metrology. In a similar vein and especially with respect to contemporary developments in systems and synthetic biology, the notion of ‘system’ was revisited in a discussion of complexity, instability, and top-down constraints. The systems-perspective is often associated with holistic conceptions that consider the unpredictable emergence of novelty where a whole cannot be decomposed into the sum of its parts. In technological contexts, however, systems are studied for their reliable behaviors as functioning units. And once again, relative stability is sought out by science and technology.

A whole day was devoted to the origin of the notion of ‘applied science’. Even though Francis Bacon distinguished centuries ago between light-bringing and fruit-bearing experiments, it was shown that the notion of ‘pure science’ came only in response to the provocative suggestion that there might be such a thing as ‘applied science’. This idea of applied science as science in its own right went well beyond the mere application of scientific theories and it can therefore be considered a 19th century precursor of today’s so-called technoscience. The workshop concluded with a discussion by graduate students of Janet Kourany’s recent book on Philosophy of Science after Feminism—which calls for an integration of political and epistemological considerations and which thereby responds to the challenge posed by research in its technological setting.


Justin Biddle (Atlanta, GA), Dan Brooks (Bielefeld), Erik Conway (Pasadena, CA), Carl Cranor (Riverside, CA), Allan Driggers (Columbia, SC), Kevin Elliott (Columbia, SC), Tiffany Florvil (Columbia, SC), Graeme Gooday (Leeds), Ann Johnson (Columbia, SC), George Khushf (Columbia, SC), Ursula Klein (Berlin), Janet Kourany (Notre Dame, IN), Ulrich Krohs (Bielefeld), Johannes Lenhard (Bielefeld), Anna-Lena Leuschner (Bielefeld), Leah McClimans (Columbia, SC), Joe November (Columbia, SC), Gordon Purves (Columbia, SC), Danka Radjenovic (Darmstadt), Carsten Reinhardt (Berlin), Cornelius Schmidt (Darmstadt), Miriam Solomon (Philadelphia, PA), Michael Stöltzner (Columbia, SC), Eran Tal (Toronto), Cheryce von Xylander (Darmstadt), Torsten Wilholt (Bielefeld), Norton Wise (Los Angeles, CA)

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