Truth-Spots: How Places Make People Believe

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 10:50
Oral Presentation
Thomas GIERYN, Indiana University Bloomington, USA
One possibly profitable new direction for the sociological study of science is to examine the places where scientific knowledge is made or shared: laboratories, field-sites, botanical gardens, zoos, museums, observatories of all kinds and classrooms. These sites of science are "truth-spots," places that lend credibility to claims that come from there. The challenge is to figure out how each of these places makes people believe--given that they are dramatically different in their geographic locations, natural landscapes, built environments and in the stories we tell that give meaning and value to each. For example, laboratories trade on their material disengagement from immediate physical contexts while field-sites celebrate the contingencies and particulars of natural surrounds--yet both manage to produce credible scientific claims. To figure out how these truth-spots work, I suggest that it helps to examine other places where knowledge is made (or contested), other places where beliefs are affirmed (or denied)--places that are not ordinarily thought of as sites of science: pilgrimage destinations; courthouses; commemorated sites of history, memory and identity; even oracles. Perhaps new sociological insights into the workings of science will result from comparative analyses of other culture-producing institutions and practices--with a focus on the places where such activities occur.