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Language and practice
Harry Collins Social Studies of Science 2011 41: 271 originally published online 22 February 2011 DOI: 10.1177/0306312711399665 The online version of this article can be found at: http://sss.sagepub.com/content/41/2/271
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Language and practice
Social Studies of Science 41(2) 271–300 © The Author(s) 2011 Reprints and permission: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0306312711399665 sss.sagepub.com
School of Social Sciences, University of Cardiff, Cardiff, UK
What are the relative contributions of language and physical practice to practical understanding? The resolution of a series of puzzles depends upon the answer. I argue that language is, and must be, more central than physical practice in individual acquisition of practical understanding. Only this makes it possible for there to be a sociology of scientific knowledge, for there to be scientific specialities, for there to be a division of labour in society and for there to be a society that is more than a set of narrow and isolated worlds. Physical practice remains central to human culture but its influence is at the collective level at which languages are formed, rather than the individual level at which practical abilities are acquired. Domain languages ‘contain’ practices, and it is from these that individuals draw much, usually most, of their practical understanding. Because the individual level and the domain level have not previously been distinguished, certain philosophical problems have been wrongly cast and mistakes have been made. Domains of practice/language are embedded within one another in fractal-like relationships, and this is how we can make sense of higher levels of coordinated action. The ideas of ‘special interactional expert’, ‘practice language’ and ‘methodological interactionalism’ are introduced.
interactional expertise, language, linguistic socialization, methodological interactionalism, practice, ‘practice language’
To what extent does one have to practice in order to understand a physical practice? The prevailing view seems to have changed over the last half-century. In what, for argument’s sake, can be called ‘the 1950s’, when it seemed that computers would soon be capable of displacing human thought, understanding things through practice and experience was mostly thought of as a deficient or partially formed version of formal, scientific understanding.1 Where there was no properly developed formula or theory, rules-of-thumb
Corresponding author: Harry Collins, School of Social Sciences, University of Cardiff, Glamorgan Building, Cardiff CF10 3WT, Wales, UK Email: CollinsHM@Cardiff.ac.uk
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or the fruits of experience could serve as second-best until such time as scientists and technologists worked things out properly. In the latter part of the 20th century the role of practice came to be seen as more important. Polanyi argued that even in science there were ‘tacit’ elements that could not be represented formally, and the sociology of scientific knowledge produced detailed case studies to show more clearly why this was bound to be so. Formal reasoning and experimental procedures came to be seen as meaningful only in social settings. The Fleckian Denkkollectiv, the Kuhnian ‘paradigm’ and the Wittgensteinian ‘form-of-life’ (understood in the way it has generally been understood within SSK), each implies that what is formalized and what counts as an observation or an experimental result is made meaningful only when embedded in a taken-for-granted social reality (Collins, 2010; Fleck 1979 ; Kuhn, 1962; Polanyi, 1958; Wittgenstein, 1953). What is sometimes forgotten is that taken-for-granted realities are as much a product of shared languages as of shared practice. For example, Peter Winch’s (1958: 121) brilliantly perceptive, Wittgensteinian analysis of the antics of the surgeons and nurses in the anteroom of an operating theatre, with their exaggerated scrubbing and choreographed donning of gloves, can only make sense in terms of the germ theory – ‘the language of germs’. The germs themselves are not forcing the surgeons to scrub and glove!2 The importance of language is already, as it were, in the ‘mother’s milk’ of anyone brought up in the academic traditions of science studies though, nowadays, it is practice that is most often the main focus of discussion. In some recent approaches, language has been entirely ignored and practice alone has been taken to be what makes it possible to understand practice. Philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger have emphasized the role of the body in understanding, while others, such as Dreyfus, used such insights to criticize attempts to build symbolbased machines to reproduce the full range of human capacities. As a consequence, language, seen as belonging to the domain of symbols, has been pushed to the margins (Merleau-Ponty, 1962: 143).3 Here I argue for a transformation in the way we think about these relationships. I argue that lived language is not just to be balanced with practice but is more central to individuals’ practical understanding than physical practice itself. I argue that were this not the case we could make no analytic sense of the world as we know it – in fact, there would be no world as we know it. Before getting on to the main argument, however, the thesis needs to be clarified along with the terms in which it is cast. In addition, the way in which the question relates to immediately previous work needs to be explained.4
Here I contrast ‘practical understanding’ with ‘practice’. It has been claimed in earlier publications that practical understanding can be acquired through ‘linguistic socialization’ alone without the need to engage in the physical practices themselves. This has been called the acquisition of ‘interactional expertise’.5 The idea of interactional expertise implies that it would, for example, be possible to come to understand, say, tennis – to have a practical understanding of tennis – without ever having played tennis, held
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We imagine that a person who has played tennis all their lives asks questions about tennis of the person in the wheelchair and another person who has played tennis all their lives. Sighted ‘judges’ tried to tell the difference between them and sighted persons. to some extent. understand tennis as well as someone who had played it all their lives. What follows is an analysis of what can come to be known through language and what can come to be known through practice. Furthermore. We say that the wheelchair-bound person is as good at making practical judgements in discursive settings as the tennis player. has been argued to be of great importance in science studies. the intended meanings of terms should be clear from the context.8 The ability to make practical judgements as a result of linguistic socialization alone. such a person could. the latter are better thought of as strings of symbols rather than linguistic practices. The claim is that such a person could acquire a practical understanding of tennis solely from extended and intensive discussion of tennis in the company of tennis players. this is the sense in which ‘language’ and ‘practice’ are intended throughout. At the same time. however.com by guest on March 18.6 The ‘Imitation Game’ is similar to the Turing Test. it will be suggested that language is a practice. so the Imitation Game described above will probably remain a thought experiment. without watching tennis or stirring from their wheelchair. that is.Collins
a tennis racket or bounced a tennis ball.sagepub. 2013
Downloaded from sss. But experiments very like it have been done with persons who were registered blind in childhood. roughly what sort of distance from point of bounce to line makes it difficult to decide on whether the serve was “in” and “out”?’ or. 2007). managers of scientific projects can do their work only because they acquire interactional expertise in the specialities in respect of which they must make decisions (Collins and Sanders.7 It is hard to find congenitally blind and wheelchair-bound persons who have spent many years in intense discourse with lifetime tennis players. via the possession of interactional expertise. In every case. Some questions concerned line-calling in tennis and the like. Imagine a person who has been blind and confined to a wheelchair from birth. In these experiments judges could only rarely distinguish the blind from the sighted – as per the hypothesis. The ‘judge’ has to work out who is who from the answers to question such as ‘In the case of a fast serve. Another important contrast is between ‘lived language’. Therefore the contrast is not really between language and practice but between ‘linguistic practice’ and ‘physical practice’. experts in practical domains spend much of their time in purely conversational settings making important judgments about what and how to practice. We can give meaning to this kind of understanding with a thought experiment that is also. ‘What does it feel like when you hit a hard serve really sweetly?’ If the judge cannot distinguish the wheelchair-bound person from the tennis player we say the wheelchair-bound person has exhibited practical understanding even though he or she could never actually make a line call or execute a serve. which is a practice. a real experiment. and something similar must hold for certain levels of peer review when the job is being done properly. Upon it depends the very ability for non-scientists to accomplish deep and authentic analysis of sciences they do not actually practice. In addition. in principle. and ‘language’ as located in dictionaries and grammar books.
too – the two classes do not contrast. practice is a vitally important driver of the language. if we were all blind and congenitally bound to wheelchairs there would be no talk about tennis to learn from – there would be no ‘tennis language’.
Downloaded from sss. even those classed in earlier treatments as contributory experts. the obvious term is. The answer offered here is that for the individual. the class of contributory experts is entirely included in the only very slightly larger class of interactional experts (see Fig. then. it would become a kind of cargo-cult language. without such bridges our lives would be bounded by our practical experiences and we would each live in a condition not far from social isolation. rather.sagepub. ‘special interactional expert’. This means that it is necessary to invent a new term for the special group of interactional experts who are not contributory experts. if a community of interactional experts were isolated for any significant time from the contributory experts who give rise to the corresponding practice-language. A point made in earlier publications is that the relationship between language and practice found at the individual level is not the same as the relationship found at the collective level. Interactional expertise is found everywhere. Furthermore. There can be tennis language only if there is the practice of tennis. as will be argued. Another innovation is the changed relationship between contributory experts and interactional experts. This makes humans quite different from animals and other non-humans.com by guest on March 18. In early discussions of interactional expertise it was taken that ‘interactional experts’ – those who gained their practical understanding from linguistic discourse alone – were rare and exotic. 2007: 79ff). we are all interactional experts. interactional experts. Tennis language is an example of what I am going to call a ‘practice language’ – which is a language related to a practice or set of practices. is that interactional expertise is: (1) the main component in the acquisition of most practical abilities. While. This is what has been called the social embodiment thesis (Collins and Evans. 1). language dominates practice (nearly) everywhere. language dominates practice. Another iconic example of an interactional expert was taken to be someone like Collins. This is what is meant by saying that interactional expertise is parasitic.9 Another innovation is that here it is argued that language is not only central to practical understanding in any one domain. (2) the foundation of any complex division of labour. for the individual. 2013
. the language would begin to degrade and die. Since. The opening question concerned the relative contributions of language and practice to practical understanding.274
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What is new
What is new here in respect of the overall programme known as Studies of Expertise and Experience (SEE) is the central importance given to language. There would be no interactional experts (I should say ‘special interactional experts’ – see below) without contributory experts (those who practice). like the imagined blind person in the wheelchair. Contributory experts are. at the collective level. In the long term. but also what bridges disparate worlds of practical activity. however. and (3) the basis of human societies. who had to spend decades acquiring the interactional expertise of gravitational wave (GW) physics. where language is formed and maintained. What is argued here. Thus. language dominates practice for the individual.
an expert is someone who possesses the tacit knowledge pertaining to a domain of expertise (Collins and Evans. differ from languages as understood by other academic disciplines in some or all of the following ways. Other examples are the languages of professional cricket. amateur cricket. two further clarifications are necessary. ‘practice languages’ must be distinguished from ‘language’ as it is understood by other academic disciplines. (2) someone whom other people believe to be an expert. (3) someone who gives expert testimony to government enquiries and the like. Practice languages. Many practice-based languages can be found within a single natural language speaking community. 2002. whether they can also physically practice or not. as understood here. Special interactional experts
Definitions: ‘Experts’ and ‘practice languages’
Before embarking on the main argument. First. another is GW physics language. As intended here. The important feature of a practice language is its substantive (often tacit) content. (3) There is taken to be no analytically significant difference between learning a first language and learning subsequent practice languages.
Downloaded from sss. 2007). But the term ‘expert’ has a variety of uses and the one intended here needs to be distinguished from others. someone with practical understanding of a domain. an example of a practice language is ‘tennis language’. (5) Practice languages are embedded within one another in fractal-like relationships (see below). (1) The practice languages of groups are intimately related to their practices in the world. (4) There is taken to be no analytically significant difference between children’s learning of practice languages and adults’ learning of practice languages. As has been seen. will be described as an ‘expert’. the term ‘expert’ is associated with SEE: thus. that is the social embodiment thesis. or (4) experts at innovating and inventing. with new ones coming into existence all the time.11 (2) There is an indefinite number of practice languages. 2013
Special interactional experts
Contributory/ Interactional experts
Figure 1.sagepub. and so forth. There are indefinitely more practice languages than there are natural languages.com by guest on March 18. This contrasts with the following common usages not deployed here: (1) someone with more true and justified beliefs than someone who is less expert.10 Second.
GW physics is a big science that brings together many practical specialists. 2 the domain bounded by the irregular line is meant to be GW physics. (7) The death of practice languages is particularly interesting because it means the death of a domain of physical practice without easy hope of recovery. A formal description does not capture a practice – only a practice language can capture it (see below). and so on.12
The central argument: Language is central to practical understanding
The central argument of this paper follows from observations of scientific practice in GW physics. Consider the practice of GW physics (see Collins.sagepub. One of these specialities might be mirror-suspension design. The practice of GW physics
Downloaded from sss. Such observations reveal that there is a simple and obvious-once-stated. but strangely overlooked. another might be laser-development. reason why language is central to practice. In Fig. the recovery would involve the reinvention of the entire practice language.276
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(6) A natural language is. among other things. the domain language is represented by the little bundles of waves. a high-level practice language formed from the joint practices of the natural language speaking community. different practical specialities are indicated by the numbers 1–n. 2011.13 Here. Collins and Sanders. 2013
. 2004b. Groups of scientists’ actual physical engagements with the world are represented by stick figures using hammers and anvils. 2007). not just resuscitating some practice based on a ‘recipe’.com by guest on March 18. still another might be the analysis of GW waveforms.14 In a field such as GW physics there will be many such specialities – ‘n’ of them! (Also in the diagram is a stick figure with no hammer and anvil but engaged in the same kind of talk as all the others:
3 5 2 4
even when not everyone is together in the same place at the same time. who has spent many years embedded in the discourse of GW physics. the posting of materials on the net and teleconferences. in this case. such as astrophysicists.sagepub. and in physics as whole. were unable to pass as GW physicists in Imitation Games. Turning to GW physics language as a whole.com by guest on March 18. in so far as it is a recognizable practice
Downloaded from sss. and then even more particularly in GW physics. 1–n.) Each of the ‘n’ specialists must understand the work of the others if they are to cooperate so as to form the big science –‘the practice’ of GW physics. share the same physical space in a university. 2007: 108). understanding the work of those who belong to the other 1–n specialities within a practice such as GW physics. That this process leads to the sharing of a language has been made clear in a simple Imitation Game experiment. knows the language and has practical understanding. To repeat.15 Now this central argument will be repeated a little more fully. who might be a sociologist or a manager. then. backed up by networked materials and emails. GW physics language is a language heavily based in practice and that practice covers all the individual specialities that are part of GW physics. some feedback). the majority of the whole international community gets together several times a year at conferences or workshops. with members of those universities meeting other members on a regular basis to discuss their work on shared or interacting specialities (the 1–n). the very notion of specialization would make no sense. 2006). is not the same as being able to do the work of the others. in a sense. in a sense. Furthermore. ‘contains’ the practice of tennis). so the language continually filters around the network as a whole.Collins
this figure. It is developed during the specialists’ training in science. particularly in relativistic physics. often with video links. but has no practical expertise. We can imagine arrows coming out of each of the specialists and representing the ways each of their practices has contributed and continues to contribute to the ‘sea’ of the practice language (with. An individual’s grasp of GW physics language has many sources. This is a special interactional expert. based in the n practices that make up the field and it is only this that makes us able to distinguish and identify it as a discrete practice as a whole. 3. To sum up. of course. the individual’s grasp will have developed in a good part through the discursive contributions of those who are inventing and developing the specialist practices. pass such a test (Giles. the language of a domain of practice. In contrast. ‘contains’ the practices of all those specialists (just as tennis language. so the only way they can gain such understanding is via a shared practice language. It has been shown that even groups. as the social embodiment thesis makes clear. at one time. as in Fig. though it can and must be accomplished through this intense mutual linguistic immersion. did. A hard-working GW scientist might participate in two or three teleconferences a week. 2013
. The separate contributions of each of these n practices has contributed to the language as a whole and this must have been through the interactions of the individual practitioners and their specialist subgroups with the collectivity of GW physics language speakers. and found he could act as a judge in the astrophysics Imitation Games and identify the participants very easily (Collins and Evans. The way this comes about is through apprenticeship in groups distributed in universities across the world. Crucially. were this not the case. the author. The language of GW physics. The form of the GW practice language is. They do not do each other’s work. who are disciplinarily close to GW physics and. This is reinforced by endless email lists.
Comparing the two bolded stick-figures. once more. is formed largely from the typical physical and theoretical embodied practices of the individuals within the specialist groups belonging to that domain. 2. not coming out of the specialists but going into them. Formation of the GW physics practice language
language.sagepub. But there are also arrows. These downward arrows represent the way language gives meaning to and shapes practice as individuals are inducted into the field. but he or she makes no contribution to the formation of the practice language.278
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Figure 3. learns the language of GW physics while practising only a small part of the physical activities that comprise the entire practice’s physical engagement with the world. If there are n specialities. certain things follow. The leftmost bolded stick figure in Fig. 4. 4). These arrows go from the language to the ‘hammerers’ (Fig. That is why the possibility of the existence of special interactional experts should come as no surprise – there is almost no difference between interactional experts and contributory experts as far as their relationship to the practice language is concerned. 2013
. The ratio of language to practice will vary from domain
Downloaded from sss. To repeat. 4 is. one can see that the only difference between them is that the contributory expert on the left engages in an nth of the physical practices pertaining to the field whereas the special interactional expert does not practice that nth and contributes nothing at all. such as the bolded hammerer to the right in Fig. 3 is the special interactional expert from Fig. the special interactional expert.
Once the importance of language to practice is grasped. Also shown in Fig. As an individual. that person also contributes only a tiny part to the formation of the practice language. But first the ideas need a little refinement.com by guest on March 18. each specialist has learned the language of ‘the practice’ – the language that enables him or her to work within the practice and to declare ‘I am a practising gravitational wave physicist’ – in the course of practising only about 1/nth of the range of physical practices pertaining to the practice. each specialist.
even in such a case the role of language should be treated. way. That this is the case gives rise to a methodological principle: ‘methodological interactionalism’. then. In the first instance. rather than the ‘human-as-animal’. Imagine a group that appears to learn entirely through deep immersion in physical practices. or default. 2013
. the point remains that even in relatively individualistic domains the meaning of the physical activity. In other words.sagepub. cases where practical understanding really is acquired largely from practice
Downloaded from sss. If they exist. as cases of the quintessential collective way of human learning. In some domains – and this might well include tennis – there is little in the way of division of labour and so the relative importance of language might be less than in. as the sociology of knowledge points out. physical immersion in practice should be thought of only as the condition for immersion in the practice language. Nevertheless. we know how to dissect it into discrete entities through our language and. Language dominates practice for the individual
to domain.com by guest on March 18. If there are said to be cases where no language is necessary. act as though language is always the learning mechanism. position.Collins
Figure 4. GW physics. as far as possible. In this case what has to be derailed is the idea that practice is a sufficient explanation for understanding practice and for the acquisition of practical skills. as central. all cases of human acquisition of expertise should be treated. these need to looked at again. individual-encounter-with-the-physical. This is to say that when we human individuals engage with the world for the purpose of doing anything more complicated than is done by animals. Like ‘methodological relativism’. Jordan and Weston. is formed by language. When investigating any practice-learning environment one should.16 Methodological interactionalism embodies what Popper would call a ‘bold conjecture’ – namely that a practice can never be learned from someone else in the absence of shared language. the way we cut it up differs from language community to language community. this must become the new default position. 2003) need careful reconsideration. in the first instance. existing descriptions of apprenticeship regimes that appear not to depend on language (for example. and therefore the way we conceive of it and practice it. methodological interactionalism is intended to derail the commonsense. say.
can be broken in the right context (‘In the right
Downloaded from sss. To that extent and more. language. that there is no equivalent meaning theory has to do with the fact that languages are not meaningless. are certain grammatical rules. Note that to reduce. Having acquired verb placement. the child learns things that are never said. nor do they even ‘know’ that they know it. That is. can be transformed backward and forward into other symbols either without loss or with losses that can be measured and sometimes remedied. information theory deals with them. Thus.com by guest on March 18. to say that it is possible is not to reintroduce symbolic representation as the pre-eminent form of practical understanding. even though they are generally not explicated during early learning of a language. Elsewhere the difference between languages proper and strings of symbols has been explored under the heading of the ‘transformation–translation distinction’ (Collins. chess pieces can be made of carved wood or bottle tops and matchsticks. remedy or measure loss in strings of symbols we transmit the same string of symbols over and over so as to create redundancy in the information. at least in its relationship to practical and technical matters rather than artistic or expressive matters. language speaking is a practice. The child learns verb placement by learning to perform the language. and the place of physical practice in the absence of language becomes a topic for research. Where there are losses. In learning language. to try to reduce loss of meaning in language. 2010: 25): strings of symbols. we send a series of different strings of symbols each time so that the receiver can look at different ways of expressing the intended meaning.18 For example. this is because the fluent lived language discussed here is itself laden with tacit knowledge. But acquiring native fluency in a language – as opposed to learning the shell of a language from its explicit grammar and the dictionary – always involves the acquisition of tacit knowledge. even though they usually cannot say what they know. being the property of living societies. Traditionally. at least not until much later. the second law of thermodynamics aside. That there is a worthwhile information theory has to do with the fact that strings of symbols are by themselves meaningless. and so on. English letters can be transformed into binary code and back. without the risk of irremediable and immeasurable loss – there is no ‘meaning theory’ equivalent to information theory. since rules such as those about verb placement. 2013
. we know that there are overall rules for the placement of verbs in sentences in natural languages such as ‘put the verb in the middle’ in English. such as balancing on a bicycle.
Can we imagine how language might ‘contain’ practice?
How is it even conceivable that practical understanding could be contained in language?17 First. Languages. like all rules. among the things that can be made roughly explicit. on the other hand.sagepub. has been thought of as the domain of the explicit as opposed to the tacit.280
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alone become interesting exceptions. however. The tacit is often exemplified by a practical ability. Fluent lived language is full of meaning that is continually in flux. can never be translated (nor even used). the child then ‘knows’ how to do something. it involves the acquisition of far more in the way of understanding than what is said or even could be said.19 Children learning their first language acquire the knowledge of where to put the verb only tacitly. The child learns where to place the verb just as the child learns to ride a bicycle – by doing it. Furthermore.
can transmute calculations into real stuff. 2004b: 451–452)
In the second passage (referring to the same conference) we see that talk is used to establish existence:
And what else was being established? No black hole has ever been seen. … Yet at the Pisa conference. In the first passage. It might also be contained in wider patterns and frequencies of usage in the community as a whole. the frequency with which a word or phrase is uttered by the entire body of speakers may indicate something of practical importance.20 He should have been in Pisa to see what could be done with black holes – everyone was spraying them all over the place. It might be contained in the arrangements of words. conferences would happen without the physical presence of Joe Weber or even his virtual presence in the vibrations of the airwaves that constitute words.
The less literal side to truth making is still more interesting. black holes were as comfortable and familiar as cups and saucers. it would be impossible to learn virtuoso verb placement from rules alone. (Collins. The theory of black holes was a matter of fact. one learns how to make practical judgments. Theorists have hijacked the discourse of discovery. Theorizing and computer modeling. Philosophers have tried to define the real: Ian Hacking says that he thinks electrons are ‘real’ because experimentalists talk of spraying electrons. in conference after conference. this process might have been illustrated in a couple of passages of Gravity’s Shadow (Collins. and the delegates learned that the right response was to quietly move on to the next paper. it is suggested that the silences of speakers can be seen to indicate their understanding of the (low) flux of gravitational radiation that is to be found in the universe.com by guest on March 18. a whole new slant on the notion of ‘social construction of reality’. Joe Weber [a pioneering GW scientist whose claims to have seen high fluxes of GW were discredited by 1975] would stand up and present his papers. In retrospect. during which I listened to every paper.’ – the editor will not correct that sentence even though Word has warned me about a grammar problem with a jagged green line). So the language learner has to learn things that cannot be said as well as things that are simply happen not to be said. They were using spit. it learns what words and usages are properly uttered in polite company.sagepub. The modalities surrounding the term black hole were those having to do with certainty. We do not know how practical understanding is contained in language. 2013
. For example. And later. (Collins. and nowhere was it more apparent than here. when it is conducted by consenting adults in public. Weber’s name was mentioned just once. What is argued here is that learning a practice language – such as the language of GW physics – might carry with it an understanding of the practice of GW physics in something like the way that learning any language carries understanding of where to put the verb. Thus.Collins
context the rule broken can be. and some scientists refuse to believe in them at all. explaining that he had found gravity waves long ago. Just as one learns where to put the verb. 2004b: 452)
Downloaded from sss. in passing. Becoming an interactional expert in a practice involves coming to know aspects of the practice through acquiring fluency in the language. Conferences are the places where the community learns the etiquette of today’s truth. this or that feature of black holes has not been postulated but ‘discovered’. In my first day at the  Pisa [GW] conference. and ‘if you can spray them they’re real’. phrases and sentences. 2004b).
They bring some narrow practical expertise that makes them valued members of that domain and this automatically immerses them deeper and deeper in the practice language. comes with the acquisition of the collective language.24 No amount of explanation will enable the novice to get on a bike and ride it at the first time of trying. the difference between practicebased domains and non-practice-based domains remains as sharp as ever at the collective level. ‘synapses of society’. and such things are some of the crucial components of practical judgments – they teach what does and does not exist and what can and cannot be done.282
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In learning to use words as the community around one uses words. in the subtle changes to muscles.sagepub. The skill of bicycle-balancing (as opposed to riding in traffic – see note 22) is individually embodied rather than collectively embodied. in recognition of what they can contribute. One is learning what and who is to be taken seriously. It is just a difference in social roles rather than in the grounds of knowledge – it is a sociological difference rather than an epistemological difference. The same is true of what we might call ‘embrained’ abilities such as mathematically expressed theorizing – this requires ‘mental muscles’ to be trained and exercised as the tacit abilities are acquired. and metaphorical nerve pathways of the spoken language and in the. Physical skills of this kind require changes in the material form of body and brain. where practices feed into the language. Unfortunately it is likely to be even more difficult than developing a theory of the location of embodied pieces of tacit knowledge. however.23 Practical understanding developed though linguistic discourse alone does not. as the tacit knowledge of the understanding of a practice is acquired through the development of fluency in the domain language. Speakers are mostly unaware of the frequency and nuance of words and names in their speech. Yet the pattern of usages they acquire and promulgate contains things that affect practical judgements and physical practices. then – in terms of epistemology – interactional and contributory experts are almost identical. it is.21 What is written above is no more than an invitation to develop a full theory of how language contains practical understanding. Mirror neurons aside (see notes 23 and 24).com by guest on March 18. carry with it the ability to execute embodied practices. metaphorical. 4. rather. Contributory experts are those who gain their interactional expertise in the normal way. where nearly all understanding. of course. and that could not be said. In terms of the way knowledge is made and acquired. such as bicycle-balancing.22 All that can be said is that. one is learning things of practical importance. the understanding that comes with language is not of this kind. nor how they were creating scientific understanding in the course of their speech. practical or otherwise. The sense of difference between individuals’ experience in a practical domain can be recaptured. the kind of understanding that enables sound technical judgments to be made and physical activities to be coordinated. nerve pathways and synapses. there are subtle changes to the metaphorical muscles. they need make no special effort to become
Downloaded from sss. they are granted access to roles that facilitate their socialization into the specialist domain.
What is special about ‘special interactional experts’?
In terms of the grounds of their knowledge. as illustrated by Fig. 2013
. but almost disappear at the individual level. and in this case most would be unable to provide a scientific explanation of why this could be said.
they have to work hard to attain a role that gives them sufficient immersion in the day-to-day life of the language community to enable them to become fluent. but notes that such understanding would not be enough for more ambitious sociology research that attempts to probe how cultural and scientific factors shape science. Every narrow domain of physical practice would be incomprehensible to every other or even. if not fully. If they are sociologists. in Kuhn’s (1962) terms. it is hard to see why mutual incomprehension would not go right down to the level of individual personal experience. emphasis added)26
In this respect. Sokal says that to probe how cultural and scientific factors shape science you need a knowledge of the field that is virtually. ‘If that’s your goal you need a knowledge of the field that is virtually. Alan Sokal expressed surprise that a sociologist could learn enough to pass as a GW physicist without practising.com by guest on March 18. 2007: 737)
If. Indeed.27 Furthermore. 2006. at the level of researchers in the field. (Dreyfus. they get paid to fill it. philosopher Hubert Dreyfus is Sokal’s intellectual bedfellow. and so forth.25
Some wider implications of the importance of language
The notorious ‘science wars’ turned in part on the claim that only active scientists could properly understand science. high-level journalists. As late as 2006. who are also special interactional experts. then each of us would be isolated in narrow domains of understanding bounded by the specific physical practices in which we had engaged. if not fully. are those who gain their interactional expertise without the advantage of having a valued embodied skill that automatically maintains and enhances their immersion in the language community. incommensurable with it. 2013
. ‘Unless you understand the science you can’t get into the theories. language is more important to practical understanding than practice. at the level of researchers in the field. So is the sportscaster who can’t tell a strike from a ball until the umpire has announced it. Sokal and Dreyfus must be wrong. The weasel word ‘virtually’ gives the game away because without it no one would understand anyone else’s world: we would all be isolates in our little specialities. if Sokal and Dreyfus were right. In the domain of surgery no matter how well we can pass the word along we are just dumb. Drawing on Heidegger. Dreyfus insists that the only through practical immersion in a domain can its practices be fully understood:
You may have mastered the way surgeons talk to each other but you don’t understand surgery unless you can tell thousands of different cuts from each other and judge which is appropriate. in Selinger et al. anthropologists. also have to work hard and self-consciously to acquire the interactional expertise.Collins
fluent interactional experts – it comes naturally with their practical contribution and consequent immersion in the community and the discourse of the community. however. insisting that such a subject cannot be properly understood without full immersion in the practices:
Sokal says he is struck by Collins’s skills in physics. Managers.
Downloaded from sss. on the other hand. Special interactional experts. and the only way to understand something practical was to practice it.’ (Giles.’ says Sokal. but the social role is easier to attain – indeed..sagepub.
at best. balancing STS’s tendency always to draw its metaphors and models from the world of politics. That is why we are not bound to be social isolates. Many mistakes can be avoided if sociological and logistical barriers are no longer taken to be epistemological barriers. but it is not impossible to understand. and so forth. It may be true that each of these specialists would be reluctant to take on each others’ jobs ‘at the drop of a hat’ but if their worlds were impenetrably closed to each other in terms of understanding how would the domain of surgery work? There would be no such thing as ‘surgery’.29 Interactional expertise is not something possessed by odd characters such as social scientists and managers – the special interactional experts – it is everywhere: it is the ‘glue’ of human social life. there would be. which would be impenetrably different from the world of the liver surgeon.sagepub. At worst. chihuahuas. they are logistical or sociological.28 That nearly the whole of even a contributory expert’s expertise in a practice is interactional expertise applies not only in science and technology but also to complex division of labour wherever it is encountered in society. our comprehension narrowly restricted to our particular set of physical practices. such as depends on coordination of practical activities that cannot be formally described. The pointer is unable to come to know anything of the foxhound’s world per foxhound. Various different embodied specialities are also distributed among non-humans. In so far as there are obstacles to the spread of mutual understanding across disparate groups. foxhounds. The experience of the descendant of a black slave is hard to understand without being the descendant of a black slave. This. There is. ‘orthopaedic surgery’. not epistemological. each of which would be as incomprehensible to practitioners of the others as the Azande poison-oracle is to Westerners. and so on. and so on. ‘liver surgery’. specialities are distributed among dogs: there are pointers. It is possible to come to understand it with enough immersion in the discourse – though this is not a trivial task. the stomach surgeon. but it is not impossible if the circumstances for deep sharing in the discourse are available even though the practical experiences can never be shared. That we are not so bounded has political implications.30 The difference between the old and new views can also be seen by considering the contrast between humans and non-humans. It is because of this that we have a certain choices about how we live our political lives and our academic lives: accidents of birth no longer bestow quite the unquestionable cultural authority they have sometimes been said to bestow (for an example drawn from science studies see the discussion of Maori science in Rip (2003)). then the world of the heart surgeon becomes impenetrably different from the world of the orthopaedic surgeon. 2013
. The experience of being a woman is hard to understand without being a woman. And so on: one may become a special interactional expert in any domain of practice so long as the possibility of immersion in its discourse is available. If it is necessary to have made the cut in order to understand the cut. the foxhound
Downloaded from sss. is an idea that social studies of science can feed back into politics writ large.com by guest on March 18. is to be understood.284
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The same applies to Dreyfus’s model. The idea of interactional expertise is vital if the complex division of labour. nothing that can link the differing experiences of these dog specialists into a joint domain of dog practice. only ‘heart surgery’. perhaps. there would be only ‘this person who does things with a knife’ and ‘that person who does things with a knife’. To take an example from a domain apparently close to human ones. however.
created and captured by language. but the logistics of the matter implies that no one can get this degree of detailed understanding for all n specialities. One would expect every member of the mirror-suspension speciality to be able to take part in the discussion of the best method for drawing fibres and take part in the subsequent decision. one would not expect any member of the wider GW physics community to be able to take part in a discussion of drawing of fibres in the same way. high-energy physics. one would not. members of some other GW speciality could learn to take part in such discussions by immersing themselves in the sub-practice language of mirror-suspension design. The world of the dog cannot combine the embodied specialities of all dogs because there are no doggy practice languages – practical activities among dogs cannot be glued together by language.31
The fractal model
Language. To work as a GW contributory expert they do not need this degree of understanding. fusing and dislocations in materials. vibration analysis and attenuation. This fractal relationship is true of all forms-of-life. the human realm is crucially different to that of non-humans. They also learn from that discourse the extent to which these goals have been achieved within the subgroup. One can see that the mirror-suspension speciality is a scale model of the wider GW physics practice.com by guest on March 18. For example. This is why sociology should be principally the study of the human realm. damping. expect every member of the group to be able to draw fibres. There is also a weaker form of cross-practice communication. Non-humans have no language (where the term language is properly understood as being distinct from information exchange). One of the many steps required to build a state of the art mirror suspension is the drawing of quartz fibres into suspension ‘wires’. Mirror-suspension design. electrostatic control and driving. and so forth. analysis of magnetic and electrical properties of materials. On the other hand.Collins
is unable to come to know the world of the chihuahua. feedback systems. creates human social collectivities. not just science. 2 – let us say the one involved with mirror-suspension design. while the form-of-life structure in terms of specialities is preserved at every scale.
Downloaded from sss. astrophysics. they need only understand that fibres must be drawn well and reliably.sagepub. and direct and coordinate their actions with those of the sub-group accordingly. as we have seen. including adhesion of quartz materials. Physics as a whole includes the sub-specialities – GW physics. of which one has to be chosen – a technical judgement. and where there is no language there is no drawing together of disparate experiences into a common understanding. Forms-of-life contain other forms-of-life within them and these in turn contain others. has its own set of sub-specialities. Consider one of the n groups in Fig. 2013
. Common understanding. is the ‘glue’ that holds together practices such as GW physics. The mirror-suspension subgroup is related to the GW group as a whole as in a ‘fractal’ – the scale is reduced but the form is the same. then. however. and so on. There are varied techniques for drawing fibres. and they will come to understand ‘well’ and ‘reliably’ from the normal GW practice language discourse.32 The same relationship applies if one goes up in scale. If they wanted. ‘1–n’. GW physics is a reduced-scale model of physics as a whole.
It is middle-level forms-of-life which have been referred to here as ‘practices’. 5. The interactional expertise – the practice language – that holds GW physics together as a practice could be called ‘ubiquitous expertise(GW physics)’. And within the form-of-life of cricket there are the forms-of-life of professional cricket. The middle level might be. and so forth. At the next level up there is ‘ubiquitous expertise(science)’. GW physics. there is the form-of-life of sport and there is the formof-life of war. (This is an experiment that has actually been carried out. But science cannot be done unless it is possible to talk in terms of classes and ignore boundary problems for the sake of analysis. Something like Fig. which is in turn inside the form-of-life of science and so on. then there is a boundary that can be made visible between their universes of discourse.
Downloaded from sss. and it is possible to move up to the whole of Western society in which science is just one speciality. The cascade of levels is shown in Fig. 2. sub-specialities. In Fig. 2 could equally represent any of these levels.286
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among native English-speakers. or practice language.33 If we move up a fractal level or two to physics as a whole. it is found inside the form-of-life of astrophysics.) We can always ask whether it makes sense to think of a boundary between collectivities by imagining the outcome of an Imitation Game.sagepub. 5 each group of stick figures who together practice a speciality x contains within it another sub-speciality that can be diagrammatically rendered in the same way as the group in which speciality x is itself represented. How do we define the boundaries of specialities. And each figure within the reduced scale representation contains a smaller representation of the Figure as a whole and so on until we reach the bottom or the top. vibration analysis. adhesion science. If the participants are distinguishable. highenergy physics. say. as has been explained. making the problem more intractable since it now seems politically suspect to talk of sharp boundaries anywhere. If we believe the participants would be distinguishable. and so forth? This is an old question. Progress has been made in STS by focussing on boundary transgressions. amateur cricket and school-kids’ cricket. 2013
. This nomenclature is meant to express the idea that every GW physicist possesses it but that it is special compared to the ubiquitous expertise found in ordinary social life. in which physics is one of the specialities 1–n. contribute to mirror-suspension design – glass-drawing. missing out an intermediate level. the top level might be physics. GW physics is a kind of middle-level form-of-life. the Figure is nested within itself again and again. Invoking the Imitation Game as a thought experiment helps. which is itself inside the form-of-life of physics. we can say that there is a ‘ubiquitous expertise(physics)’. with stick figures also representing astrophysics. astronomy. then there is a boundary between their domains of practice or forms-of-life. in which GW physics falls back to being merely one of the specialities equivalent to the original 1–n in Fig.com by guest on March 18. the bottom level might be all those practical sub-specialities that. and so on. To ask whether there is a boundary between astrophysics and GW physics we need only imagine that a GW-accomplished judge is asked to distinguish in an Imitation Game between an astrophysicist and a GW physicist (and vice versa). each associated with its own discourse. And so on – all the way down to where the groups are so small that they can no longer be said to support a distinctive discourse or practice language. Within the form-of-life of sport there are the forms-of-life of football and of cricket.
The fractal model
Two kinds of linguistic bridge between practices
The argument so far has shown how interactional expertise makes sense of middle-level practices such as GW physics. as Imitation Game experiments have shown – such groups of physicists do not speak each other’s practice languages.Collins
3 5 4
Figure 5. The solution is to delegate particular
Downloaded from sss. GW detection involves a search for correlations with electromagnetic signals such as might be seen by astronomers watching the explosions of stars. enabling each sub-specialist within the practice to act as something other than an isolate. 2013
. For example. so a bridge between GW physics and astronomy is needed.com by guest on March 18.sagepub. This is not a trivial matter. Sometimes interactional expertise can also be used to bridge middle-level practices.
which still requires specific bridging mechanisms. and how teams are brought together and maintained. one for visible light emissions. To know these things they do not need to be able to engage in each others’ practices. and adjust their questions accordingly. The practice language of physics is not enough to facilitate detailed technical collaboration but is enough to enable one physicist to understand another at a more general level. nor even speak each others’ middle-level practice languages. because they can understand them as a result of their fluency in the higher level practice language. The delegated individuals.35 Then we could step up a level and show the difference between science and religion in the same way again. It is just that the practices are not ‘mirror suspension design’ or ‘waveform calculation’. how hard and fallible (or reliable) experiment is. not every physicist has to engage in every one of these practices. bridges can be built in the same way between the different groups found in social life as a whole.
Downloaded from sss. mutual understanding is possible at this higher level – without it we cannot make sense of the world – but it does not solve the problem of more detailed technical cooperation. they need speak only the practice language of physics which links all middle-level practices into the practice of physics as a whole. to gain interactional expertise. We could make visible the unity of the higher-level physics practice language by asking Imitation Game judges to distinguish between physicists and non-physicists. peer review of big projects will often involve an understanding at this level – all appropriate reviewers will know what doing a physics project is like. one for neutrino bursts. x-ray astronomers.com by guest on March 18.34 As has been argued. biology in general.288
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individuals belonging to the GW physics-practice to learn some astronomy practice language. Not only are practices embedded within one another. It is still the case that practice languages that pertain at the different levels are built from. say. The fractal model allows. From what we already know. however. but more general things such as ‘large-scale experimentation’ or ‘theoretical model-building’. For example.sagepub. Each delegate has to become a special interactional expert with respect to the community to which he or she is to build a bridge. can then answer technical questions and queries from GW physicists on behalf of. the practices that make them up. and the language of GW physics in particular. for a weaker kind of communication between middle-level-physics practices mediated by the higher level practice language – the practice language of physics. Once more. in so far as they succeed. physics and biology could not be revealed in this way and that the ‘native members’ asked to act as judges would not understand the difference between the language of physics in general. To repeat.36
Intermingling practices and the collective versus the individual
Using the Imitation Game to think about boundaries reveals another important feature of practices that goes to the very heart of the philosophical argument of this paper – that human life is essentially collective. and they will have a good sense of what the scientific pay-off might be from a certain expenditure. 2013
. and ‘contain’. it is inconceivable that the distinction between. without always referring back to those astronomers – this is how one detail of the technical cooperation between these middle-level practices is made possible. and to form bridges with different kinds of astronomer: one bridge for those investigating x-ray emissions. say. and so on.
but they also intermingle. the problem goes away. One might subdivide physics into specializations. The appropriate unit of analysis is the collectivity – the collectivity is the stuff of social analysis.com by guest on March 18. The number of different possible combinations of collectivities at intersections nicely accounts for the individuality of individuals. The way to resolve the problem. One only encounters the problem of intermingling if one considers that there are atomic units – individuals – in common between the collectivities. experimental scientists and theoretical scientists. 5 could be drawn in different ways. one might divide any population into tennis players versus hockey players or choose chess players versus bridge players or manual workers versus white-collar workers. is to take a unit of analysis that does not lead to the notion of intermingling of practices. instead. The way to make sense of this intermingling is to take the basic unit of analysis as the collectivity. for example. say. however. but the individuals involved are divided into different but intermingled sets. been the pretext for a television comedy in the UK. Radical distinctiveness of worldview is often discussed as though it coincided with radical sociometric division.37 The problem is completely general. How many ways one can do it can. Here the Kuhnian position is generalized to all practice languages – how do those whose practice differs understand each other? The problem is that Fig. where there is a limited number
Downloaded from sss. not the individual. such as the British and the Azande. not the individual. then the Imitation Game would not reveal a boundary. and theory versus practice on the other – they are simply different collectivities. material and sociometric co-location. If. each one is different. such as high-energy physics versus fluid dynamics. If the world were not divided up by practice language into. Thus there is no intermingling of the dimensions of different physics specialities on the one hand. The alternative choices would yield alternative partitions of the individuals involved and very different versions of Fig. the Catherine Tate show. Each individual is the intersection of a set of collectivities. but if it is so divided then the Imitation Game will show it. or via styles of work. At least since Kuhn. this way of looking at things fits much better with the standard notion of an atomic theory because if we take individuals as the atomic units. I suggest. again. often associated with radical differences in geographical location and material conditions. that the UK is ever so slightly divided between ginger-haired people and the rest – such a view has. the Imitation Game would not reveal any boundary between those with light brown hair and those with dark brown hair – these groups are not socially organized in such a way as to have specialist languages pertaining to their different ways of being in the world. It might well be. such as theorists versus experimentalists. In discussions of the incommensurability of cultures and the like. Thus. one treats the collectivities as the basic units – the units that cannot be further subdivided – and the individual as composed of these units. One cannot divide the world up into practices in an indefinite number of ways. we have had to work with the idea that there can be radical conceptual difference alongside geographical. whatever the division. Compare this with the atomic theory of the elements. however. 5. be thought about in terms of the Imitation Game. The problem of bridging across practical specialities applies in the same way. 2013
.sagepub. It is an empirical question but we can be sure that many such groups would intermingle and overlap. played in the UK. the implicit model is often of two distinct groups.
The first is deep technical understanding across islands of practice made possible by technical practice languages. because contributory experts typically contribute in only narrow domains of practice. It has been shown how these processes work in science. interactional expertise and the fractal model in hand. (1) There is little distinction between contributory experts and interactional experts. (4) Practicing cannot be said to be essential to understanding practice without qualifying the claim by reference to the fractal model. In the case of non-humans. (2) Special interactional experts are exotic because they come by their expertise in an unusual way – but they are sociologically special rather than philosophically special. that which is found
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of types of atoms. of course. Everything else follows from this point. (6) As explained. With these ideas of practice language. we can recapture familiar features of life. There is incommensurability and/or mutual incomprehension between domains of practice. and there is every reason to think that they also work in life as a whole. the principle of ‘methodological interactionalism’ follows from what has been argued. enables only weaker and less ramified coordination. there is no hope of bridging practice because there are no practice languages. There are two ways in which human social life can function without breaking down into islands of mutual incomprehension bounded by their own physical practices. 2013
. or by the building of bridges using special interactional experts. This model is homologous with the treatment as collectivities as ‘atoms’ and individuals being ‘molecules’ made up of varying proportions of some of them. This may happen in the normal process of socialization within a practice. described by the fractal model. (3) Given this.38 It may be worthwhile to list some of the claims made in this paper.com by guest on March 18. Nevertheless. (5) Animal-like.
Summary and conclusions
The central point of the argument presented here is that language is central to practice because the quintessential human mode of practice is collective. The second way in which disparate groups can communicate is through their common knowledge of a higher-level practice language. The level of collectivity being referred to must be made clear.sagepub. This is what sociology should be about. though the social. This. political and logistic obstacles that prevent this from happening are often strong and may be insurmountable in practice. but it resolves some of the problems of incommensurability. it becomes obvious that there is no epistemological barrier to mutual understanding across groups with disparate forms of life. individualistic. practices should not be confused with quintessentially human practice. This makes it obvious that there is no philosophical problem presented by the existence of special interactional experts. with each member belonging to a class being identical with every other.
What I am calling the ‘Dreyfusian Model’ is shown on the left. It is the difference between the impact on language of the body that typifies the species – the social embodiment thesis that operates at the collective level – and the relationship of the individual to language. not just draw upon it. even at the lower level the incomprehension can be resolved by a determined enough effort to form bridges using special interactional experts. The quadrant bounded by the axes contains all language-speaking entities. and it takes for granted that potential linguistic fluency increases only with increased practice. 6). contribute to political understanding. in this way. as shown by the heavy dotted diagonal line. Fig. Furthermore. as measured by Imitation Games). The easiest way to explain the second is to begin with a diagram (Fig.sagepub. This view is illustrated by Dreyfus’s statement about
Interactional Expertise Model
Figure 6. Science studies can. I believe that existing debates are often confounded in two ways. Two models of the relationship between language and practice
Downloaded from sss. The first of these has already been discussed. The second confusion concerns two different arguments about individuals. but they apply to every sphere of collective human life.39 Appendix
Reconsideration of the relationships between body. practice and language
I now want to suggest that the theory of interactional expertise means that the relationship between language and the body needs to be more carefully thought out.com by guest on March 18. 6 shows two models of the relationship between immersion in practices (made possible by the body) and potential linguistic fluency (for example. These results have been developed from close examination of the workings of a science. 2013
at the lower levels of the fractal does not prevent regular communication at the higher levels.
the use of a hammer or a blind person’s stick. hence the dotted line rises vertically then reaches a plateau. 2007).com by guest on March 18. The Interactional Expertise Model breaks this link: if practice languages can be acquired without practice. This covers the various different routes to linguistic fluency. nor do the right circumstances occur very often. The world of language acquisition as we actually encounter it is represented by the black triangle in the Interactional Expertise Model. brain surgeons. perhaps. Under the Interactional Expertise Model. The question of whether computers must have bodies to be intelligent is not about collectivities of computers – we can all agree that any collectivity of computers that developed its own human-like language would have to have fully competent human-like
Downloaded from sss. insists that so long as any language can be acquired then. But under the Interactional Expertise model the claim that to have language at all one must have a body is no longer supported by the examples of tennis players. Were the topic the relationship between the typical bodies and practices and the languages of whole communities. however. and the corresponding practice languages can still be acquired. then we know that some elements of language can be acquired without the corresponding body. It is not easy to acquire practice languages in the way that the Interactional Expertise model says is possible. of course. All that is needed under this model is a ‘minimal body’ – that is.. we can take away all the bits of individuals’ bodies needed to do these things. given the right circumstances. and therefore the question arises. For ‘to be intelligent’. Crucially. every example of the relationship between practice and fluency supports the embodiment thesis. just enough in the way of a body to be able to engage in the discourse that makes linguistic socialization possible.40 Note that the two models apply to language acquisition by individuals. Why cannot all elements of language be acquired without a body? Under the Dreyfusian model the ability to acquire a practice language is confounded with the ability to acquire basic language. with the hypotenuse (the Dreyfusian route) being the most frequently encountered. The ‘Interactional Expertise Model’. Selinger et al. merely to restate the social embodiment thesis.41 The Dreyfusian Model implies that to acquire a practice language it is not only necessary to have a body. involving more or less practice. a brain-surgeon’s body to acquire brain-surgery language. Dreyfus’s first shot in his justly famous battle against the ‘artificial intelligentsia’ was entitled ‘Why computers must have bodies to be intelligent’. Let us call this ‘the embodiment thesis’. 1972. the diagram associated with the Dreyfusian model would be correct in all cases – this is. this is the ‘minimal embodiment thesis’ (Collins. not philosophical or logical constraints. but these are sociological and logistic constraints. If it is true that to understand any practice it is necessary to have a practising body.sagepub. 1992). there is no need for an individual to have a practice-capable body to acquire a practice language. be done without doing too much violence to the original intention. let us substitute ‘acquire fluency in language’ – which can. shown on the right. fluency can be attained in any practice language without practice. then this supports the idea that a body is necessary for the acquisition of any language at all. 2013
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the surgeons (above). a tennis player’s body is needed to acquire tennis-language. under the Dreyfusian Model. 2008. in addition it must be one that can engage in the corresponding practice – for example. and this theme was to continue through his subsequent writings (Dreyfus 1967.
There is nothing special about this. which has led to significant changes. see also Giles (2006). well-marshalled by the editors.com by guest on March 18. 1992. Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986). In the light of the idea of interactional expertise. Dreyfus’s first publication on the matter (1967) was entitled ‘Why Computers must have bodies to be intelligent. The kind of sound practical judgment that interactional expertise makes possible can be applied only in discursive settings. Results of many of the arguments and demonstrations are gathered together in Collins and Evans (2007). There is another. My understanding of Heidegger is taken from the writings of Dreyfus referred to throughout this text: Dreyfus (1972. 2006. but that is a price that has to be paid if there is to be any attempt to characterize broad intellectual change. To make good judgments within an unfolding practical situation may require presence on the ground and embodied skill at observing such situations.Collins
bodies – but is about whether an individual computer can acquire language. It has become clear that some of the vital background understandings have not been readily available to an STS readership. of course. Collins. so some ideas that have been published outside the regular STS sphere have been revisited in the introductory section. 5. so exactly how much it needs to reach the threshold that allows the vertical dotted line to begin – the horizontal position of the intersection of the axes of Fig. When I say previous work. For the special role of managers. The Einstein. and the collection of papers in Collins (ed.
Downloaded from sss. Collins and Pinch. 1982. I am referring to analyses in the specific tradition of the sociological. 6 – now needs new and careful argument. 2009). 1.’ 4. impossible to capture the intellectual ‘spirit’ of a time without inviting attention to a multitude of exceptions. 2004a..) 6. What he meant by that is that what you see is determined by what you have learned prior to seeing and that can only have been learned via discourse. (Mike Gorman provided these examples taking them from Gary Klein – see Ross et al. empirically driven. 2006. the question becomes far more demanding and interesting. 3. just as embodied skill and the right language are needed to observe through a microscope. Harvey. I thank all those who commented subsequently and the three anonymous referees who provided very conscientious feedback. Evan Selinger triggered a major re-write of the initial draft. see Collins and Evans. see Collins and Sanders (2007). analysis of expertise and tacit knowledge. 2002..42 Notes
The initial impetus for preparing this paper came from the discussions at the Third International Workshop on Studies of Expertise and Experience (SEESHOP3) held in Cardiff on 15 and 16 November 2009. 1981). suggesting it should relate back less to earlier work. meant to show the impossibility of quantum theory because of the paradox of non-locality. For example. more philosophically driven. 2013
. we now know that such a computer does not have to have much of a body. Rosen thought experiment. became a real experiment that revealed that non-locality was measurable – it is nowadays known as quantum-entanglement (see for example. It is. Thus to make the right judgement on when to pull a fire-fighting team out of a fire or to pull a platoon out of combat may require the presence of an expert with experience with observing such situations. but to some extent that has had to be reversed in the light of referees’ comments. Hanson (1958) also insisted that ‘observation is theory laden’.) 2007. Language can be sufficient only in so far as such decisions are made in discursive settings rather than in practical courses of events. 2. Podolsky. body of work that describes itself as dealing with ‘practice theory’ (for a review see Rouse. Collins et al.sagepub. 2007).
implying a high degree of practical understanding. For the purposes of defining a contributory expert. Of course. it requires that the participants are fairly literate and fluent – have ‘interactive ability’ – though the notion of expertise extends to those who are not. Oliver Sacks’s (1985) example of the congenitally blind. I would like to see their argument re-worked to take into account the role of the practice language of weapons testing. If the ‘special’ were not added we would be in the awkward position of having to say that a contributory expert has interactional expertise but is not an interactional expert. Wells (1934 : 474) illustrates the idea of a practice language in his story ‘The Country of the Blind’: ‘For fourteen generations these people had been blind and cut off from all the seeing world. but some clarification is worthwhile since confusion between the SEE definition and other definitions has given rise to confusion in earlier projects (see Selinger et al. 2006). theoretical practices are included. for example. This is not an exhaustive list of definitions of expertise.sagepub. 17.. the stick figures with hammers are sometimes taken to be individuals and sometimes specialist groups of individuals.
15. who appears to have become fully fluent in the native language. are described in Collins et al. as well as Collins’s passing as a GW physicist. Bloor (1973) and Collins (1981). Because blind persons spend their lives immersed in the discourse of the sighted.. we could say this – indeed we have been saying it – but it seems odd. Selinger and Mix. See Appendix (above) for an attempt to sort out the four distinct theses about the relationship between language and practice that are usually confounded. the names for all the things of sight had faded and changed. blind persons could easily identify a sighted person trying to pretend to be blind. the term ‘discursive settings’ means discussion distant from or unaffected by the material and practical context of the domain. Mackenzie and Spinardi (1995) argue that nuclear weapons will become ‘uninvented’ if they can no longer be tested. practical specialities include those where the practice is theoretical. the story of the outer world was faded and changed to a child’s story . they should be able to make the same judgements as the sighted and pass as sighted. Related experiments on the colour-blind and on those with perfect pitch. H. The stick-figure convention is taken from Collins and Evans (2007). Note that the argument presented above should not be confused with the argument about whether any individual can acquire language at all unless they have a body.
11.com by guest on March 18.
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9. It should be noted that a contributory expert’s interactional expertise may be ‘latent’ in the sense that they may not be able to express it (Collins and Evans.
13. Note that in the text. 2010).
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Nevertheless. 16. In physics. the Imitation Game will often have to remain a thought experiment since. Does language contain ‘practice’ or ‘practical understanding’? In so far as practical understanding is necessary for practice. 14. because the sighted person had not spent a lifetime immersed in the discourse of the blind (see Collins and Evans. 2011). In this text.G. though their conclusions would remain the same. 2013
. For the derailing of the default position that truth is its own explanation see. wheelchair-bound. ‘Madeleine’. (2006). and almost totally disabled. In the quasi-control condition.’. I believe the context will disambiguate in each case. Thus the calculators of the waveforms of inspiralling binary neutron stars are contributory experts within GW physics. 2007: 38.
10. in its current instantiation anyway. in containing practical understanding it also contains
7. is germane. I could do none of the work pertaining to any speciality. such as calculating waveforms.
This is from the report in Nature of Collins’s successful attempt to pass as a GW physicist in an Imitation Game (Giles. and on the other. I refer to ‘bicycle-balancing’.
20. 2006). The position is not stated clearly. but rather that they. what cannot be said. on rare occasions. Contributory experts.
23. make a small contribution to the specialist domain itself.com by guest on March 18. at least one who enters at the top from another scientific specialization.. Contributory experts are those who have gained their expertise by being granted a role in the heart of the practice language community because of their ability to engage in one of the physical (including theoretical) practices pertaining to the domain. in turn.Collins
18. what is not said. See also Galison (1997: ch.
Downloaded from sss. Imagine finding a bike for the first time on a desert island! How would one come to understand that this spindly thing could be balanced and ridden? (See Pinch et al. The label ‘special interactional expert’ places managers in the same class as the sociologists and others like them. 2010). are not defined as ‘contributors’ to a domain of practice – that would be far too broad a category. it does not contain the ‘somatic tacit knowledge’ aspects of practice (Collins. see Collins (2010). still has to acquire interactional expertise in an unusual way. learning practical understanding from a language depends on the equivalent of the acquisition of the ‘collective tacit knowledge’ of bicycle riding rather than the ‘somatic tacit knowledge’ of balancing (Collins. 24. The quote is from Hacking (1983: 24). The force that prevents one from talking of Weber is a discursive force.) Most literally represented by the occasional activity of mirror-neurons in the individual (Schilhab. On the other hand. this similarity is one of the more nicely revealing and initially counter-intuitive aspects of the interactional expertise idea. The existence of an innate generative grammar as proposed by Chomsky is not relevant to this example. 8) for a description of the first use of a discourse of ‘discovery’ applied to computer modelling of atomic weapons. 21. even learning to ride a bike involves being inducted into the language. Hardly any of them would have been involved in the non-observation of Weberstyle GWs with all its subtleties. whose only claim to domain expertise is sharing the language. given that the manager is paid precisely because he or she makes such significant contributions to the practice. The answer is that ‘special interactional expert’ in the way the term is used here.
practice. connotes the fact that the manager. 2010). This is not to say that the speakers could not provide a scientific rationale for why Joe Weber was no longer mentioned. One might ask why the manager should not be said to be a contributory expert rather than a special interactional expert. on the one hand. then.sagepub. The implication of what Sokal says is that you have to be a scientist (contributory expert) to understand science. Language-speaking is ‘polimorphic’ and polimorphic actions cannot be described formally (Collins and Kusch. 2013
. 1998). 25. which is a far more complicated thing. Again. had learned that rationale from the discourse. For a discussion of tacit knowledge as meaning. for a development of this point. not an observational force. the idea of mirror-neurons might lead us to believe that the execution of an already acquired physical ability could be improved with enough talk but not learned in the first place. 2007) but only a metaphor in the case of collective tacit knowledge.
22. since ‘bicycle-riding’ involves understanding the social conventions of traffic.
26. Here we are concerned with the differences between languages that have to be learned during the course of linguistic socialization. 1996. This way of looking at things also resolves the difficulty that even the sociologist or other kind of outsider may. Of course.
What has been argued here goes against Dreyfus’s view that the only good sports coaches and commentators are those who have actually played the sport. The early debate can be found in such places as Kuhn (1962). To point out the obvious. From the management point of view it makes sense to place ones ‘bet’ on someone with practical experience. as explained above in the section of methodological interactionalism. (I do not think Goodall’s position does insist on this. Callon. higher levels could be subdivided into lower levels in different ways. 2007) or any other theory that does not accept that there is a deep and fundamental difference between humans and non-humans. An anonymous referee then suggested that as soon as one admitted that the division between sub-specialities could be drawn in different ways the whole model ceased to make sense.
Downloaded from sss. 34. There may be other ways of managing this bridging – these possibilities are discussed in Collins et al. Dreyfus and Goodall are right in so far as special interactional experts are rare.sagepub. 35. This subsection is intended to resolve what I believe
27. though Dreyfus’s does. Oddly enough. this now becomes a topic for investigation. It might appear to be in opposition to the interesting study by Goodall (2009). For the first use of the fractal metaphor for forms-of-life see Collins and Kusch (1998: 16–17). See the Appendix for an analysis of some of the confusions that may have contributed to this incorrect view. Thus a new student GW physicist might more easily catch Collins out in a GW Imitation Game than could a full-blown GW physicist (thanks to Luis Galindo for this point). but wrong in so far as their philosophies insist that they cannot exist. He said that under the fractal model.
37. In short. For this general use of the term ‘ubiquitous expertise’ see Collins and Evans (2007). Collins (2010) makes a related point under the heading of ‘Social Cartesianism’. See Ribeiro (2007) for an example from the steel industry. and judges could possibly have trapped Collins in the GW Imitation Games by asking him more general physics questions rather than specialized GW physics questions. 31. Goodall shows that universities (and basketball teams) generally do better when led (coached) by those with high level experience in the relevant practice. (2007). compared with these other physicists Collins probably does not possess much in the way of ubiquitous expertise(physics). For an analysis of Galison’s notion of trading zones see Collins et al. Though the ratio of language to practice in different practices might be different in different places.) This subsection arises out of a personal communication from Will Thomas in response to an earlier draft of this paper. Latour. 28. The question goes back to the very beginning of the sociology of scientific knowledge where Kuhnian ‘incommensurability’ was related to the ‘problem of rationality’ in anthropology. Wilson (1970). Darrin Durant (2010) indicates that the ‘Third Wave’ has wider political significance than is discussed here.
29. 33. But this statistical relationship is exactly what we would expect given the sparseness of the roles that allow one to acquire interactional expertise in the absence of practical experience. 1986.com by guest on March 18. Collins and Pinch (1982) and Galison (1997). he says its political philosophy is Rawlsian.
32. I set out his comment in a footnote to the paper initially submitted for publication.
30. (2007). from a philosophical point of view the crucial thing is that practical experience is not always a necessity. 2013
. the argument is incompatible with ‘Actor Network Theory’ (for example.
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perhaps because it is incoherent given that under a strong version of this rule no one scientific specialist could ever understand another kind of specialist.
It seems to me impossible to believe any longer that it has to follow the diagonal represented by the hypotenuse. the study of embodied action by philosophers still tends to take the lead from animal behaviour.
Bloor D (1973) Wittgenstein and Mannheim on the sociology of mathematics. It is. Chatterbot. The approach also explains how it is even possible for there to be Galison-type trading zones. contrary to what Searle’s (1980) famous ‘Chinese Room’ thought experiment seems to imply.
41. on common experimental procedures.Collins
38. Being able to play at language in a 5-minute test has been taken to be an indicator of the intelligence of symbol-manipulating machines (Turing. so long as it was equipped with suitable prostheses.. Much of this is argued. (2007) and Ribeiro (2007).
to be a very profound and revealing problem. As explained above. 2007. (Note that the main point of Searle’s argument was to point out that identical language performance could mask quite different mechanisms by which it was achieved. 1950). the philosophical objection has to be about whether the dotted line can ever be truly vertical or whether it must stray across to the right a bit. and that is why machines built to perform in such tests (Books Llc. most clearly expressed in Collins (1998). I should add that the position argued here is not something dreamed up solely for the purpose of resolving an awkward problem but has been a constant theme of my work in terms of my earlier analyses of the nature of science. but by no means fully resolved. however. Unknown: Books Llc. I have used Will Thomas’s example to begin the analysis. for example. To see how. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 4: 173–191. On the other hand I cannot imagine how a computer with no experience at all could ever make sense of the blooming. perhaps.
42. based. possessing a language is also not equivalent to the information exchange of bees and other insects and animals (Crist. nevertheless. Loebner Prize. Ribeiro is exploring the shaded triangle as it is found in practice in his work on ‘levels of immersion’. See also Collins et al. Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity. In so far as the idea of interactional expertise is not thoroughly established.
39. 2004). as the splendid bodies of dogs and other animals reveal.com by guest on March 18. Mark V Shaney. I now think that the minimal body could be still more minimal than I suggested in that paper. Having a language means having the ability to immerse oneself in living discourse. in Selinger et al. The performance of a lived language cannot. my critiques of artificial intelligence and my analyses of tacit knowledge.
40. this also implies that to look at bodies is to look in the wrong place.sagepub. 2010) will always fail if the test is properly designed. so I can see the problem posed by Selinger and Dreyfus – but I don’t think they have a satisfactory solution. continually acquiring its evolving tacit meanings. It should be clear that the Sokal/Dreyfus model is far too crude. But to prove this he had to describe a mechanism that would provide identical performance to a human – the Chinese Room – hence his argument depends on the Chinese Room performing identically to a human. see Dreyfus (2009) and the response in Collins (2009). We do know that having a body is not sufficient to accomplish the trick of language. Collins (1990: Chs 13. Books Llc (2010) Chatterbots: Eliza. in particular in one case via conscious understanding and in another case with no understanding at all. 14) has shown that this mechanism is impossible. buzzing confusion that is ordinary speech. be mimicked by symbol manipulation.
Downloaded from sss. Verbot Jabberwacky. 2013
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Biographical note Harry Collins is Distinguished Research Professor and Director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge. Wittgenstein L (1953) Philosophical Investigations. He has written 11 books and edited five. will. 302–321. Winch PG (1958) The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy.
Downloaded from sss. The ‘Imitation Game’.com by guest on March 18. Turing AM (1950) Computing machinery and intelligence.sagepub. The first of his approximately150 papers. Ltd. He also analyses and researches the nature of expertise. New York: Columbia University Press. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Wilson B (ed. In: Wells HG Joan and Peter & The Country of the Blind. 467–486 (originally published. His continuing research on the sociology of GW detection is now funded by the NSF. Harmondworth: Penguin. are published in this journal. 1904).) (1970) Rationality. 53–66). He was President of the Society for Social Studies of Science from 1991 to 1993 and was awarded its Bernal prize in 1997. plus another 27. advocacy and technical judgment. be further developed with the aid of a grant from the ERC.300
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Selinger E and Mix J (2006) On interactional expertise: Pragmatic and ontological considerations. from June 2011.