The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science

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This text offers an understanding of the nature of scientific, mathematical and engineering practice, and the production of scientific knowledge. The author presents an approach to the unpredictable nature of change in science, taking into account the number of factors - social, technological, conceptual and natural - that interact to affect the creation of scientific knowledge. In his view, machines, instruments, facts, theories, conceptual and mathematical structures, disciplined practices and human beings are in constantly shifting relationships with one another - mangled together in ways that are shaped by the contingencies of culture, time and place. Situating material as well as human agency in their larger cultural context, Pickering uses case studies to show how this picture of the open, changeable nature of science advances a greater understanding of scientific work both past and present. He examines the building of the bubble chamber in particle physics, the search for the quark, the construction of the quarternion system in mathematics and the introduction of computer-controlled machine tools in industry. He uses these examples to address the most basic elements of scientific practice - the development of experimental apparatus, the production of facts, the development of theory and the interrelation of machines and social organization.