Nikolas Rose’s “when we were structuralists,” and also getting dissed by STS

Nikolas Rose gets interviewed in this Public Culture (free excerpt w/o paywall) and it’s a little like listening to a seasoned old pro describing the muddling of getting to insight. I love Powers of Freedom, and in the interview we learn that Rose’s work on psychology (e.g. Governing the Soul) comes out of his experiences as a practitioner of child welfare psychology, both before and after his PhD. We hear about him muddling through Marx looking to answers to how subjects come to believe they are certain kinds of persons; we hear him struggling to decide that the answers aren’t there for him there. First, it’s a total relief to see the mess that others dwell in before getting to their sparkling insights. Second, it’s interesting to see the shadow life of the project as political questions about practice — the things we don’t usually see in methods section. If only more people wrote about their media interviews, consulting gigs, and activism as part of their work. Feminists were pretty good about this historically. 

And on getting dissed by STS:

TM: What was it that concerned these people in science and technology studies [STS]?

NR: In those early days, much STS was concerned with showing that even the “hardest” sciences were socially shaped, imbued with interests, and so forth — so obviously the targets were theories and experiments in chemistry, physics, and so forth. Of course, psychologists were interested in the “social history” of their discipline, but that tended to be represented as the march of progress, a story of brilliant individuals and their lives and interactions. That’s a parody; of course, there was lots of good scholarship, but not about the kinds of things that interested me. I went to the meetings and presented my work, but it was hardly well received.

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2 Responses
  1. Zinc says:

    Thanks for the link to Rose’s interview. I always find these sorts of readings invaluable for understanding the processes of knowledge-production over scales of a lifetime. And, they’re fun to read.
    I think, though, that a lot of people now do “write about their media interviews, consulting gigs, and activism as part of their work,” but – as you say in your other post on identity – that’s often a way to consolidate a public performance of an authentic, effective self that’s a step on the way to branding. As in the feminist precedents you point to, our questions might foreground issues of collectivity and dialogue. Interviews, reading groups, etc are forms of dialogue that often get left out of accounting for how books get written and seemingly-solo careers happen.

  2. Lilly says:

    Along with interviews, reading groups, and other forms of collectivity, there’s also the legally invisibilized work of scanning in whole books that are otherwise $130 a pop but deserve to be read! This is especially true of global South authors whose books often don’t get the same promotion and distribution.

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