SHOT Joint Session

Actors' Categories: Language, Power, and Historical Analysis


Mary X. Mitchell

Purdue University

Stephanie A. Dick

University of Pennsylvania


Laura Stark

Vanderbilt University


Session Abstract

This roundtable will examine critically historians' uses of actors' categories as analytical devices. Which theories and historiographies in science and technology history have origins in actors' discourses and practices? How might historians' selective adoptions amplify analysis? How might they reify particular actors' desires, viewpoints, and worlds? How do dynamics of power-actors' power and the historian's privileged position-shape which devices gain traction?
Focusing on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, participants will offer provocative, five-minute reflections on concepts central to histories of science and technology: Henry Cowles will discuss ""choice"" in the psychology of willpower and its subsequent centrality to neoliberalism. Stephanie Dick will explore different formulations of ""intelligence"" in artificial intelligence research and their relationship with historical theories of knowledge and reasoning. Isabel Gabel will trace the movement of ""structure"" between biological and social theory, to understand how the concept became both an object and a frame of analysis. Lukas Rieppel will discuss ""organization"" and how it circulated between biology and political economy, as well as the way that it informs the history of science and capitalism. Mary Mitchell will explore the centrality of ""network"" and ""system"" concepts both to US imperialism in Oceania and to historians' later analyses of empire. Tracing the computerization of social service agencies in the United States, Marc Aidinoff will discuss ""liberalism"" as an organizing principle of networked computing in the 1980s. Laura Stark will offer reflections and provocations to begin a broader conversation with the audience.

Presenter 1

Henry M. Cowles

University of Michigan

Presenter 2

Stephanie A. Dick

University of Pennsylvania

Presenter 3

Isabel Gabel

University of Pennsylvania

Presenter 4

Lukas Rieppel

Brown University

Presenter 5

Mary X. Mitchell

Purdue University

Presenter 6

Marc Aidinoff

Massachusetts Institute of Technology