Carlson Post 5: Is DH the annoying, wannabe, little sister of science?

While reading Latour & Woolgar’s Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts, I experienced a few epiphanies regarding the humanities, science, and the position of the digital humanities – something that I did not at all expect going into this reading. Latour & Woolgar point out that although our culture tends to view the scientific process as very straightforward, this is often not the case: “We argue that both scientists and observers are routinely confronted by a seething mass of alternative interpretations. Despite participants’ well-ordered reconstructions and rationalizations, actual scientific practice entails the confrontations and negotiations of utter confusion” (36). It is a common societal belief that while the humanities generally deal with interpretations that can easily be countered, science fields deal strictly with data and the straightforward conclusions that are subsequently drawn from that data. Is anyone else having flashbacks to C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures? Latour & Woolgar suggest that the line that society draws between science and humanities may not be so easily drawn.

Additionally, Latour & Woolgar point out the “currently widespread acceptance of the methods and achievements of science in the culture of which we are part” (39). While this book was originally written in the 1970s, this statement still rings true nearly thirty years later. It’s totally true; society loves science and the humanities don’t receive nearly that level of respect, which is probably why I am met with blank stares and confusion when I tell people I am pursuing a master’s in English. So that got me thinking – digital humanities seems to be the next big thing. Doing DH seems to garner more respect than just the plain old humanities in this day and age. Why is that? Could this be because DH takes the humanities and turns it scientific? Then I had a horrifying realization: is DH just the annoying, wannabe, little sister of science?

I may just be extra sensitive because I was a biology major for my first year of undergrad and that clearly didn’t pan out. But it seems to me that the reason we love DH so much may be because it takes the humanities and brings it several steps closer to science, the discipline that society loves and respects. Of course, I’m playing devil’s advocate here and I know that DH carries much more value than just being a wannabe science field. But I think Latour & Woolgar bring up some points about our culture’s view of science and humanities that have importance implications on the place of DH.

Works Cited:

Latour, Bruno and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1986. Web.


2 thoughts on “Carlson Post 5: Is DH the annoying, wannabe, little sister of science?

  1. feralroots says:

    I had the same realization. I’ve been questioning the canon in English and accessibility, like the anarchist I am, but it never occurred to me to question science in this way until last year when I took a feminist theories course. That class made me deeply question the perspective behind all Western research, in every field.

    One article we read explicitly interrogated the Western lens reporting on other cultures. It made me ask questions like: Do we cast other societies as primitive, and ourselves, consequently, as civilized? Are we automatically the civilized reporter in all scholarship, and do we ever even think about positioning ourselves this way, or is it just automatic/indoctrinated? It’s not something we’re really taught to question here in the U.S. or other Western countries, which is the nature of colonialism.

    This book made me think about the ways in which science colonizes the humanities, logic stamping out emotion, collected data being allotted more value than personal narrative, and so on. The neo-liberalism we discussed last class jumped out at me throughout the text. Science offers a tangible, lucrative value to the university in a way poetry, or an analysis of Shakespeare doesn’t.

    When we present science as infallible, rather than something that is conducted by living, breathing human beings, we miss the holes in the data. Here in the U.S., data can be manipulated to further political agendas. You can find a doctor to say one thing that aids your product and you can find one who will say the exact opposite. Companies like Monsanto commission scientific research to make them look better. Much scientific exploration is funded or conducted through the university and therefore probably has an agenda attached to it.

    Because of the nature of science, new things are being discovered all the time that change or disprove previous knowledge, so I’m not sure why it is so hard for us to consider that it is a fallible field. I think adding cultural theory and outside considerations would only strengthen this field. Uniting both science and humanities could only have a positive outcome, rather than us sitting on whatever side of the fence we belong to and making judgements.


  2. feralroots says:

    This also made me think of the recent events where the GOP chair presented false scientific data to defund Planned Parenthood. The video is hilarious actually, but a great example of what I’m talking about in my last comment. (


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