The ineffable: A framework for the study of methods through the case of mid-century mind-brain sciences

Now available in Social Studies of Science: “The ineffable: A framework for the study of methods through the case of mid-century mind-brain sciences,” by Laura Stark, Nancy D. Campbell. Abstract:

Conventionally, the story of modern research methods has been told as the gradual ascendancy of practices that scientists designed to extract evidence out of minds and bodies. These methods, which we call ‘methods of extraction’, have not been the exclusive ways in which experts have generated evidence. In a variety of case studies, scholars in Science and Technology Studies have persuasively documented scientists’ efforts to know the extra-linguistic, internal experiences of other beings – prior to or aside from their efforts to represent those experiences in words and images. We propose a new framework to resolve a seeming contradiction in STS, which stems from the fact that the language of ‘subjectivity’ has been used to refer to two analytically distinct features of scientists’ methods: the epistemological premises of a method, on the one hand, and the evaluation of the method in the moral economy of science, on the other hand. Building on Shapin’s provocation to study the ‘sciences of subjectivity’, we analyze three sites in the epistemic niche of 1950s US Federal mind-brain scientists and find that ‘methods of extraction’ neither replaced nor invariably trumped additional methods that researchers designed to provide evidence of people’s interior experiences. We call these additional approaches ‘methods of ingression’ because researchers purported to generate authoritative evidence by climbing inside the experience of another being, rather than pulling the evidence out. Methods of ingression and methods of extraction coexisted and developed iteratively in dynamic relationship with each other – not in isolation nor in competition, as is commonly assumed. Through this empirical study, we provide a new framework that departs from the binary framework of objectivity-subjectivity to allow scholars in STS to more aptly describe scientists’ epistemic worlds; to discern a greater range of methods at play; and to appreciate the warrants for knowledge used in our own field.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.