Blore Moor I Mean More Bloor

A little more Bloor for you, in case you’ve been missing him.

The law which is at work here appears to be this: those who are defending a society or a subsection of society from a perceived threat will tend to mystify its values and standards, including its knowledge…[T]he variable of perceived threat operating upon underlying social metaphors explains the differential tendency to treat knowledge as sacred and beyond the reach of scientific study.

This is interesting stuff, because what Bloor means by ‘beyond the reach of scientific study’ is ‘not considered amenable to substantive analysis by people who are not trained in the subject.’ That is, he is claiming (in great detail, e.g. via an extended comparison of Popper and Kuhn and their relationships to the Enlightenment and Romanticism respectively) that scientists treat knowledge as sacred and beyond the reach of ‘scientific’ (by which he means sociological) study – because said scientists are not, for the most part, convinced that sociological studies can analyze the substance of, say, physics or geology or neuroscience. This lack of conviction is labeled ‘mystification’ and attributed to perception of threat. The far more obvious explanation for such a lack of conviction is not discussed.

After a brief discussion of history and its way with knowledge, he returns to the mystification theme:

The case is quite different for conceptions of knowledge which seek to cut it off from the world and which reject the naturalistic approach [by which, again, he means sociological study of the content of scientific research]. Once knowledge has been made special in this way, then all control over our theorising about its nature has been lost.

‘Made special.’ ‘seek to cut it off from the world.’ Again, what he means by those rather paranoid phrases is simply failure to agree that sociologists have something useful to say about the substance of scientific research. In other words, what would appear to be the quite natural opinion of geologists and astronomers that non-geologists and non-astronomers are, pretty much by definition, not likely to be able to judge the content of geology or astronomy, is labeled ‘making it special’ and ‘seeking to cut it off from the world’. Stark staring nonsense. It’s so basic. You don’t know about a subject unless you know about it. I don’t know how to fix a car or a computer unless I learn, do I (and I haven’t learned, and I don’t know). Some subjects take more learning, more time and effort, than others, and most if not all scientific subjects are at the high end of that scale. This is not exactly a secret, is it! It’s why people don’t study the subjects in huge numbers (except perhaps in Germany), it’s why science teachers are rarer than, say, Theory teachers or Media Studies teachers. The stuff is hard! There’s a lot of it and you have to learn it, you can’t fake it by spinning words. So why would we expect people who haven’t learned it to be able to say anything relevant about it? (‘It’ always being understood to mean the actual content, not the social conventions and institutions around it or the methodology or the rhetoric of the reports.) Why would we pretend that it’s ‘mystification’ to think that non-physicists don’t know a great deal about physics?

Who knows. For something to do. For attention. For tenure. Whatever. Anyway, it’s nonsense.

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