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Saurabh Arora - The advantages of uncertainty - toward new principles for cooperation between divergent practices from 'above' and 'below'


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Workshop on climate change and uncertainty from below and above, Delhi.

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Saurabh Arora - The advantages of uncertainty - toward new principles for cooperation between divergent practices from 'above' and 'below'

  1. 1. The advantages of uncertainty? Toward new principles for cooperation between divergent practices from ‘above’ and ‘below’ Saurabh Arora Science Policy Research Unit, and STEPS Centre, Sussex
  2. 2. I am going to try to exploit the recognition that uncertainty, of various kinds, characterises all practices of knowing, aiming to – Pluralise what/who is considered as capable of knowledge production – Propose new terms of engagement between modern scientific and other diverging practices – Flag the centrality of ‘common words’ and their inventors to facilitate this engagement
  3. 3. Ingredients 1. Complexity and difference 2. Practices: understanding agency relationally 3. Uncertainties, in knowledge production (and use) 4. Socio-ecological resilience: distributed, democratic and connected • A risky masala mix!
  4. 4. Complexity and difference • Natural/social world complicated and complex – Exceeds human understanding: all our knowledges partial and situated (Haraway 1991) • Plural ways of making knowledge, differently – Produce complementary rather than substitutable knowledges – Knowledge produced in activities that are not ostentatiously knowledge-making: doing knowing (Stirling 2015)
  5. 5. Practices I • Action as a relational process (“action is overtaken”: Latour 2005) • All action collective, even when it appears individual – Distributed in webs of humans and nonhumans – Avoiding methodological individualism
  6. 6. Practices II • Action not simply the implementation of ideas/intentions, nor always the following of rules – Ideas encounter material friction as they are enacted – Rules are bent (improvised) or circumvented as often as they are followed • Collapsing the structure-agency dichotomy – Structural inequalities (e.g. of gender and caste) performed within everyday practices
  7. 7. Uncertainties • Distinct from risk that is calculable based on an event’s probable occurrence (Callon et al. 2009) • Possible (future) states of the world unknown • Ignorance: the ‘unknown’ unknowns; • Indeterminacy: causal chains unidentified; outcomes unpredictable (Wynne 1992) • Feature of knowledge as ‘output’ and of its practices
  8. 8. Socio-ecological resilience • The sum of various distributed and decentralized initiatives always more than its parts – Contributing practices of citizens, households, street vendors, small farmers, ‘traditional’ medical practitioners etc. • Democratic: capacity to raise voice (of dissent) by the most marginalized • Connected: cooperative engagement between different practices
  9. 9. Cooperative engagement: how? • All practices present to each other as ‘minority practices’ – Applies especially to modern scientific practices that have historically disqualified practices branded irrational (e.g. ideological, shamanic, magical, religious, affective) – Minority practices not the same as practices of minorities – ‘Minority’ here is a category of doing-knowing (relational process) rather than of people or entities
  10. 10. What are minority practices? • They admit vulnerability, uncertainty, indeterminacy and ‘lack of control’ • They do not identify with a general (or normal) model that they were the first ones to ‘discover’ • They present themselves to the world from the vantage point of their ignorance
  11. 11. Terms of engagement • Minority practices (modern scientific and vernacular) engage with each other on the basis of – Commitment, to sharing cognitive and moral authority – Tactfulness, by taking each other’s “self-determination” seriously – Learning from each other, in ways that do not subsume the other practice – Affinity, built not on commonality of characteristics between practices but rather on their irreducible difference
  12. 12. For learning together • Invention of mutually accessible ‘common words’ (a shared language) – That “resist time and space” and produce relevance in settings that are as yet unformed (Stengers 2011: 327) • Construction of abstractions – Centrality of philosophy for the ‘free creation of concepts’ and of literature (including bards and storytellers) in an ecology of minority practices