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Séminaire d’histoire et philosophie des sciences : Chimie, science et société

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Expertise and Regulation
Carsten Reinhardt (Bielefeld)

4 mars 2010

How does science interact with other social systems? In order to organize and structure social life, modern societies depend on scientific knowledge. At the same time, this impact of science on society has a reversal effect: science itself is deeply influenced by its applications in neighboring fields. In my lecture, I will tackle this problem with the notions of expertise and regulation, the latter stemming from concepts of Georges Canguilhem and Michel Foucault. While building on this, I will try to develop some of the epistemic and social features that describe the forms of scientific knowledge at issue here, giving rise to what has been called recently regulatory knowledge. For making my points, I will present two cases :
– First, forensic science. In the first half of the nineteenth century, analytical chemistry reached a level of development that permitted its application not only in chemistry itself, but also in neighboring fields such as forensic science, agriculture and toxicology. At the same time, the juridical system changed from a closed, inquisition-like procedure to a public jury system. In this process, chemists replaced physicians as expert witnesses at court, arguing that the analytical methods of their science enabled them to reach impartial and objective knowledge—in contrast with the narrative case descriptions of medical doctors. The aim of this lecture is to show the interactive emergence of analytical chemistry as a sub-discipline of chemistry and the newly-reached status of chemists as experts at court. Drawing on the German situation in the middle of the nineteenth century, I argue that the juridical system and analytical chemistry interacted in ways that were crucial for the development of both sides, and led to the emergence of a new type of scientist, the public chemist.
– Second, the establishment of threshold values, or boundary values, by a commission of the German National Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) from the 1950s to the 1970s. This part studies an important sub-system of the regulatory regime of dangerous substances at the workplace where boundary values both constructed and deconstructed the hazards of chemicals. The focus will be on the boundary work that enabled the involved scientists and bureaucrats to control the risk of chemical substances and their uncertain effects. In debating the notion of boundary values, I will restrict myself to the control of chemical substances at the workplace, and will not take into account other fields where such values are important as well, e.g., radiation protection, or the environment at large.

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Carsten Reinhardt Carsten Reinhardt (Bielefeld)

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