Reflexing Complexity

Theory, Culture and Society 22 (5):67-94 (2005)
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Dominant social sciences approaches to complexity suggest that awareness of complexity in late-modern society comes from various recent scientific insights. By examining today’s plant and human genomics sciences, I question this from both ends: first suggesting that typical public culture was already aware of particular salient forms of complexity, such as limits to predictive knowledge ; second, showing how up-to-date genomics science expresses both complexity and its opposites, predictive determinism and reductionism, as coexistent representations of nature and scientific knowledge. I suggest we can understand this self-authored epistemic confusion in modern science by avoiding ‘the usual suspects’ – fading simpler discourses left over from previous scientific times; media oversimplifications; or the need to ‘simplify’ to essentials, for ignorant publics – and looking instead at the silent imaginations of extra-scientific reference groups reflected and projectively performed in scientific discourses-practices themselves. Thus contradictions of complex scientific understandings are systematically created by science’s own embodiment of epistemic commitments influenced by commercial cultures, and by imagined publics who are important new constructed objects of institutional scientific concerns – over authority and trust. New dimensions of complexity thus come alive through paying attention to neglected tacit dimensions of science–society interrelations.



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