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Friday, December 6 • 11:30am - 1:30pm
BREAKOUT SESSION EIGHT: Science & Technology

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Chair: Stella Pennell

Nicole Pepperell: How Scholars Think: About Captain Cook, for Example

As Howe noted in 1996, both scholarly and popular interest in Captain Cook is not uniform and unchanging, but shifts focus over time, in ways that provide a useful lens for understanding key intellectual and political transformations. The Tuia - Encounters 250 Commemoration, and the protests and criticisms it has provoked, provide a contemporary opportunity to use scholarly and popular commentary on the events surrounding Cook's voyages as a mirror to reflect, not on Cook himself, but rather on competing contemporary understandings of the relationships between indigenous knowledge and global science. This paper explores the ways in which, since the 1990s debates between Sahlins, Obeyesekere and their critics and advocates, the figure of Cook has provided a freighted symbol for competing theoretical understandings of the relationship between indigeneity, science, and the world system.


Richard Moreham: The utility envelope: Making practice theory practical

Practice theory constitutes the social world through a complex web of practices – emerging from the work of theorists such as Giddens and Bourdieu – but practices are a slippery, elusive concept. They are dynamic and performative – emerging from actions that are intelligible to the actor in the moment – yet they are not represented by any single act. They form an ‘entity’ of sorts which both shapes and is shaped by individual performances in a recursive dance. This is theoretically fascinating, but how can these abstract concepts apply in the real world? Through my PhD research into cycling in Christchurch, I consider how this elusive performative entity may be applied to increasing cycling for transport. I found that everyday transport practices are governed by ‘what works’ for people – captured by the concept of a ‘utility envelope’. I propose that for any change to occur in a practice it must enter the real-time, situated logic of the utility envelope, meaning that the change must work for people who are in the thick of day-to-day life. Good practice intervention would then ‘teleoaffectively’ address the detail of practical utility, at the same time as engaging values and emotions. Practice change can then occur – when it makes sense to the traveller as they head out the door.


Manuel Vallee: Perpetuating Ignorance about the Link between Disease and Toxicants: WebMD’s Coverage of Leukaemia

During the last five decades environmental health researchers have documented environmental pollution's profound impact on human bodies, including how human bodies bioaccumulate industrial chemicals and how those toxicants contribute to cancers and other chronic ailments. However, the relationship between toxicants and disease is often difficult to discern in mainstream sources of medical information. In their seminal research, Brown and colleagues identified the way print media systematically obscures the environmental causation frame in favor of a genetic and lifestyle frame. Moreover, their research stimulated much research on disease framings in print media. However, less has been said about medical publishing websites, which have become very influential. To address this gap I analyze WebMD's coverage of leukemia, whose development is linked to over twenty toxicants. Similar to the print media research, I found WebMD's coverage systematically obscures the environmental causation frame by failing to identify most toxicants associated with leukemia and by emphasizing a genetic and lifestyle causation frame. Building on previous research, I also identify rhetorical devices through which WebMD further downplays the environmental causation frame. Additionally, I discuss public health implications and sources of the problem.


Alexandar Maxwell: When Theory is a Joke: The Weinreich Witticism in modern Linguistics


Contemporary work in linguistics often adduces the Weinreich witticism, “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy,” first published in Yiddish in 1945. This paper discusses the reception of the witticism as a case study in the sociology of “scientific” knowledge. Linguists display a surprisingly casual approach to the witticism, often mis-citing or mis-attributing it. Quantitative analysis suggests that only some 4% of linguists who use the quotation cite it correctly. Qualitative study suggests that the witticism appeals to two distinct schools, both of which treat the “army” and “navy” as a metaphors for political power. The first school, “contemptuous” linguists, use the witticism to deny the legitimacy of studying the language-dialect dichotomy, preferring to see linguistics as an objective “science” unsullied by crass political interests. The second school of “engaged” linguists acknowledge the legitimacy and possibility of studying political factors, but use the witticism as a substitute for political analysis. The humour in the witticism appeals to both schools: it distracts from the necessity of an unpalatable political analysis, with which linguists apparently feel uncomfortable. Studying political analysis perhaps takes linguistics beyond the boundaries of their own disciplinary training.


Each presentation will be allocated 20 minutes. Additional time for questions and discussion will be available in each stream.

Presenters
avatar for Stella Pennell

Stella Pennell

PhD student, Massey University
Phd student (sociology) Massey University. Research interest: Airbnb, platform capitalism, digital subjectivity, tourism