Isabelle Stengers, Stephen Muecke (Translator), Another Science is Possible: A Manifesto for Slow Science, 2018, 220pp., Polity, paperback $29.95, hardcover $64.95, ISBN: 978-1-509-52181-4

The challenge faced by Isabelle Stengers’ Another Science is Possible: A Manifesto for Slow Science is perhaps best illustrated through the review by Jennifer Schnellmann, professor of pharmacology, published in the Times Higher Education in December 2017 (to the best of my knowledge, the first review of the book in English). The Manifesto, Schnellmann writes, “makes a passionate plea for decelerating the pace of scientific activity,” arguing that scientists should renounce the “arrogance” that keeps them from public engagement and take more seriously the wider “relevance” of their knowledge. Mired in misunderstanding and ignorance of scientific realities, as Schnellmann takes this agenda to be, she issues a counter-appeal, pointedly from her own professional position: “as a pharmacologist, I’d argue passionately against additionally slow science while patients die, waiting for new therapies mired in the red tape of approval.”

It is, for someone acquainted with Stengers’ works (and, in the interest of full disclosure, someone who has taken a lot from them), a painful, if somewhat comical, review to read. If Schnellmann took the time to read the whole book, this was of little aid in interpreting it. Dismissing her opponent’s comprehension of scientific knowledge and practice, she comments: “[Stengers] admits that she never got beyond an undergraduate year of chemistry studies”—in fact, Stengers clearly states (84) that she was diverted from her training in chemistry to a career in philosophy after her Master’s degree, feeling “unable to comply with the strict division between productive, scientific questions and the ‘idle’ ones, or those that concern the philosophers” (84; 34-35). That was before working with the Nobel prize winning chemist Ilya Prigogine (1978), co-writing a book on the history of chemistry (1996) and crafting numerous texts on the philosophy of science (e.g. 1997), as well as being an interlocutor of and collaborator with practitioners of various disciplines, scientific and otherwise (e.g. 1992).

To be sure, none of these textual qualifications constitute an authority that can or should be appealed to as though it constituted some kind of automatic validation. However, upon closer inspection, Schnellmann’s objections appear to have little to do with the claims of Stengers’ text, though they do confirm many of its diagnoses.

More haste, less speed

True, the book’s cover features a snail. However, this may be misleading. The French version, by marked contrast, features a fight with a giant sea monster. This may well be due to the included translation of William James’ 1903 essay “The PhD Octopus.” However, in any case, this dramatic scene of tentacular terror is a far more apposite image. The pace of scientific discovery, as Stengers makes clear (115, 80), is not in itself the problem. It is rather a question of what this process has become entangled with (and entrapped by).

In this regard, the original sub-title is noteworthy: Manifeste pour un ralentissement des sciences. What the English version renders, quite reasonably, as ‘slow’ is, in Stengers’ version, “un ralentissement”—more precisely, a slowing or a slow-down. From the Latin lentus, meaning slow, viscous or supple, comes the French lent (slow) as well as the English relent. An Anglophone ear might do well, then, to hear a sense of the relentless in Stengers’ appeal for deceleration—it is the relentlessness of the prevailing model of progress forcibly implemented by the so-called “knowledge economy” that is at issue.

Fast science refers not so much to a question of speed but to the imperative not to slow down, not to waste time or else…. (101).

The problem is not, therefore, with innovation as such but rather with the forcible mobilisation of scientific practices in circuits of competition that preclude questioning the objectives and orientations of research agendas or what these activities must exclude or override in order to get where “the economy” has decreed they must be led. Moreover, this is not (or not only) a moral argument concerning the rights of the downtrodden and ignored. On the contrary, it concerns “the very ‘social fabric’ of scientific reliability” (117). It is an appeal, therefore, to face up to the threatened future of scientific practice itself.

To place the urgent appeals of the sick and their families in opposition to the ralentissement that Stengers calls for is therefore, at best, a misunderstanding and, at worst, a slur. At the heart of Stengers’ argument is a diagnosis of the ways in which scientific practices have been captured (that is, co-opted, exploited and enlisted) by industrial interests—a situation that the field of pharmacology surely illustrates as well as any other. Far from disregarding the interests of the sick, it is precisely the imperative importance of such situated interests that Stengers insists upon taking seriously. The Manifesto begins, therefore, from a problem that is resoundingly political.

Published in French in 2013, the book expands and elaborates upon a lecture delivered in December 2011 titled “Another science is possible!” A plea for slow science; however, it gathers and furthers concepts and convictions found throughout Stengers’ career. In growing from a “plea” to a “manifesto,” the French version came to consist of 6 chapters (including “The PhD Octopus”). The English version, lucidly translated by Stephen Muecke, foregoes James’ quarrelling with the octopus of academia (which is already widely available); however, it adds a chapter on ‘Ludwig Fleck, Thomas Kuhn and the Challenge of Slowing Down the Sciences.’ While the chapter structure is progressive inasmuch as each develops different aspects of a larger argument—for example, the first chapter articulates what Stengers calls “public intelligence,” while the second deals with the very particular, and often reductive, qualities demanded of a “fast” scientist—I will not summarise the argument point by point. Instead, I will attempt to discern and draw out Stengers’ most crucial propositions, as I see them, before offering suggestions as to where these might be taken in future. More particularly, I will extrapolate a little from Stengers’ text, relating the concept of ralentissement more precisely to that of situation, suggesting that a ‘slow geography’ would be a ‘situationist’ geography.

The invention of fast science

While by no means offering an historian’s history (cf. Bensaude-Vincent and Stengers, 1996), Stengers finds the invention of fast science, in chemistry at least, in the training laboratories founded by Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) between the 1820s and 1850s (112-113). Whereas, previously, the prototypical chemist had been a wealthy eccentric (perhaps best typified by Balthazar Claës, the patriarch-protagonist of Honoré de Balzac’s 1834 novel La Recherche de l’absolu), after Liebig (and others), the chemist became a more or less respectable professional. A chemist’s career was no longer a matter of frenzied, egoistic knowledge quests but, rather, something that could be obtained through an intensive 4-year degree.

This identification correlates with the observation made by Alfred North Whitehead (1967 [1925]), Stengers’ principal philosophical inspiration, that the most important discovery of the nineteenth century was that of “the method of training professionals,” of creating “minds in a groove” (196-197). The productive capabilities of such well-grooved minds was never in question. However, such professionals were necessarily discouraged, if not prohibited, from asking the ‘big questions’ that were henceforth left to the philosophers (if they were to be entertained at all). To become a professional was, therefore, to be actively distanced from the possibility of hesitation, of ralentissement—in short, of thought. The deeper this precondition of admission to scientific practice became ensconced (and it has been a gradual, always incomplete process), the rarer such breathing spaces became. Worse still, given no time to be “vigilant in critically revising [their] modes of abstraction” (Whitehead 1967: 59; cf. Manifesto, 111), the prospect of scientists becoming civilised all but vanished.

Here we must ourselves slow down, pause. Stengers, after Whitehead (e.g. 1967 [1933]) but also going well beyond him, means something very specific by ‘civilised.’

Presenting oneself in a civilised manner means presenting oneself in terms of one’s specific matter of concern, that is, admitting that others also have their matters of concern, their own ways of having their world matter (101)

It should not, therefore, be confused with the inherited understanding of ‘civilization’ that entails a hierarchy of ‘achievement’ (narrowly, arbitrarily and prescriptively defined), with the white, Western, male world, as always, at the top. Quite the opposite: to be civilized is to present oneself in a manner precluding any such hierarchy.1 In this regard, slowing the sciences therefore means enabling and emboldening scientists to face up “to the challenge of developing a collective awareness of the particularity and selective character of their own thought-style” (100). That is, ‘slow’ (or rather ‘slowed’) scientists would become able to present themselves in a way that does not, in and of itself, do violence to the fabric of the ways and worlds of others. Articulated thus, scientific practice could have become, though no doubt, on the whole, it did not, an “adventure” rather than a “conquest” (144-145).

Unthinking the head of humanity

Thus, while presented in manifesto-form, Stengers’ appeal should not be mistaken for a general pronouncement upon how all science must henceforth be practiced. Indeed, it is not the existence of ‘fast’ (as in professionalized) science that is the problem as such. Professionals, though dangerous, are not condemned (in the sense that one would condemn a house). Nor is this yet another admonition of specialization, correlated to an obligatory call for greater inter-, multi- or trans-disciplinarity. Stengers is not interested in pretensions to general or “holistic” knowledge (99). On the contrary, it is to “scientists assembled by common matters of concern” (104) that she addresses herself. Nor do her analyses necessarily end at the edge of the campus given over to the ‘natural’ sciences. Indeed, the ‘turn’-based economy of the “reflexive” humanities, the incentive structures of which demand the ever more radical hunting down of “new scapegoats” (most recently, the competitive disavowal of anything deemed fulsomely or residually “anthropocentric”), may itself be part of the problem (126-127).

The “matters” that “assemble” concerned parties may very well, therefore, be highly specialized. Moreover, if “the self-image of Science as the ‘thinking head of humanity’” is to be criticized, this is not for reasons of moralism or disavowal. On the contrary, this image must be addressed as an abject failure—good for “generating respect” in the short term but leaving science utterly “defenceless when it comes to confronting its real enemies” (19). What cannot continue is the devil’s bargain made with state and capital: the agreement that scientific autonomy be respected lest the proverbial goose (of golden eggs fame) be vexed into infertility. This bargain was co-emergent with scientific professionalisation; indeed, Liebig himself was a vocal advocate of it. However, it failed to identify—and hence failed to defend—what was truly imperative to scientific practice; namely that:

if a scientific claim can be trusted as reliable, it is not because scientists are objective, but because the claim has been exposed to the demanding objections of competent colleagues concerned about its reliability (117, emphasis added).

It is this quality of scientific evaluation being “immanent to the community” (50) that is at stake, gradually dissolved in an era of proliferating industrial laboratories and ever more impinging patent regimes utterly unbeholden to public scrutiny or to the very concept of community.

The proposal imparted under the name “slow science” is, therefore, in no way seeking to destroy the relations that give (or gave) scientific practice its power and autonomy. Rather, it (a) recognizes these privileges as being under attack and (b) attempts to imagine new modes of being related that would lead such practices not back towards the path of “conquest” but towards “adventure.” It is to this end that, Stengers proposes that:

scientific thought collectives, facing the prospect of their destruction, should actively accept that their concern for ‘facts’ must include the way these facts come to matter for other collectives (84).

The goose is dead—this is the point. The active acceptance by practicing scientists of the importance of scientific facts for collectives other than those of practicing scientists has, therefore, little to do with scientific ‘outreach,’ if by this we mean a more or less charitable ‘giving back’ of the benefits of public investment, inspiring the ‘next generation’ of budding researchers (as valuable as these endeavors may be). Nor has it anything to do with the demands that Schnellmann makes, by way of renouncing the Manifesto, for “a more educated citizenry that can understand our work and facilitate our efforts,” thus reducing the issue to a “communication problem.” It is something rather more serious, more radical and, as Stengers’ epigraph puts it, “not simply utopian.”

To paraphrase Martin Niemöller, first they came for the ‘primitives,’ and I said nothing for I was a natural philosopher; then they came for the ‘underdeveloped,’ and I said nothing for I was a disinterested scholar; then they came for the scientists, and all the world was in mid-shrug, spitting at the very word ‘expert.’ In short: capital came for science—not just, this time, to extract value from it (which had, of course, always been the case) but, rather, to absorb its operations and dissolve its resistances. To be sure, we might not become too misty-eyed and commiserating at this development—if entrepreneurial money-making is the name of the game, there has perhaps never been a better time to be a working scientist. Nevertheless, it is in the identification of the connections in such a pattern of destruction that new alliances become possible.

The event of relevance

It is at this point that the radical difference between Stengers’ iteration of “slow science” and those other versions circulating in the semiosphere, including its criticisms, can be appreciated. In 2010, the Berlin-based distributed The Slow Science Manifesto, garnering some attention. Although considerably more concise than Stengers’ text (at around 250 words), it sets out a basic statement of its demands:

Science needs time to think. Science needs time to read, and time to fail. Science does not always know what it might be at right now. […] Society should give scientists the time they need, but more importantly, scientists must take their time.

To this, Stengers replies:

It is quite significant that the authors […] are addressing ‘society’ without naming who it is that is putting pressure on them, who they need to be protected from (98).

In failing to identify their enemies, the question of allies can hardly arise. The demand is for an amorphous cloak of reverence and respect to be issued (or rather reissued) from a social order that is in no way disaggregated into conflicting agendas or challenged as regards its active role in producing the very situation that is so lamented. The plea from Berlin is, therefore, rather moralistic—expecting the mere indignation of the ‘ought’ to have compelling force. Stengers, by contrast, lays claim to “a more ambitious agenda,” demanding “a deep break with the ideal of academic science” inherited from Liebig et al. (98).

For long-time readers of Stengers’ works, this is a crucial moment: seldom does she appeal for deep breaks or radical shifts. Indeed, such phraseology is generally left to epistemologists after the style of Gaston Bachelard, whose declamatory demarcations of the scientific from non-scientific are, in the most generous instance, described as total failures (30-31). Likewise, more or less every Francophone theorist from Auguste Comte to Michel Foucault (and beyond) has predicated their approach upon the fundamentality of radical, revolutionary ruptures in social history. To be sure, Stengers addresses “the ideal of academic science,” not society, relations of production or epistemic substructures in general. The break is, therefore situated and orientated in a manner one could describe as pragmatic. Nevertheless, it is on this point that we must pay the closest attention, since it brings us to what is, I believe, most crucial in Stengers’ pleas and proposals.

When imploring scientists to “actively accept that their concern for ‘facts’ must include the way these facts come to matter for other collectives,” Stengers is not, as we have already affirmed, arguing for more public ‘outreach,’ for a general programme of ‘educating’ the citizenry or, we might add, for collapsing the distinction of science and politics such that non-scientists would be authorised to determine the settlement of scientific controversies. This has never been her agenda (e.g. 2000 [1993]). Rather, she is calling for the rethinking and reworking of the binary opposition scientist/non-scientist such that a more efficacious distribution of roles can be realised. For example, in order to avoid opposing an illegitimately indifferent or ignorant public to an ideally educated and engaged one, Stengers suggests a role for the conceptual persona she names the “connoisseur.” Such a distributed network of actively interested agents, fitting neither the profile of the ‘expert’ nor that of the ‘amateur,’ would not advocate alternative forms of knowledge so to insist upon their “professional recognition.” Rather, they would:

appreciate the originality or the relevance of an idea but also pay attention to questions or possibilities that were not taken into account in its production, but that might become important in other circumstances (p9).

Thus, from this position, they would resist the claims of science to general authority; however, at the same time, they would “mediate” public knowledge concerning, for example, the processes and infrastructures needed to “decipher the climate,” thus countervailing the dissimulation and subterfuge of the merchants of doubt (21; Oreskes and Conway, 2011).

Similarly, convocations such as “citizen juries” (43) and the “hybrid forums” of which Callon et al. (2009 [2001]) speak are urged to be articulated as new sources of interest, coordination and validation. “Public intelligence” would, therefore, be a kind of collective intelligence; however, a collective intelligence relying not on any kind of spooky, super-organismic ‘emergence’ but, rather, an intelligently distributed and contested arrangement of roles, defined by the interests of the agents themselves. In such a world, the suffering of the sick would not be a fast-track to justifying the existing order of things. Instead, the experiences and demands of the sick and those in and of their care would be an integral part of both how research agendas are formed and how scientific research is conducted, though without the role of the scientist being in any way dissolved into an arbitrary continuum of participation.

This is, then, a radically democratic vision—indeed, what Stengers calls “civilized” is the very precondition of democracy itself: “a society in which no single position can legitimate the silencing of others, who are supposed not to count” (47, 75). Though a radically de-centring and anti-hierarchical proposition, this does not necessitate renouncing the state as an affiliate (cf. 76). Certainly, it is not a call to ‘crowd fund’ expensive scientific work or to in any way tolerate the shifting of the economic burden for ‘public goods’ from a progressively taxed public to a charitable (which is to say neo-feudal) regime of apollonian benefactors. Fawning deference to dot-com billionaires and the like does not redistribute power or decelerate decision but rather radically concentrates and accelerates them – this, then, is precisely what is to be resisted.

The slow in “slow science,” it should now be apparent, is not so much an adjective (such as would qualify a particular kind of science, exclusive of its other) as a verb, designating a task. This task has already been taken up by, for example, Stuart Lane (2017), who argues for a slow science approach to “Critical Physical Geography.” This is a crucial intervention, for readers of Society & Space in particular. However, rather than go over ground already covered, I would, drawing towards a conclusion, prefer to suggest some other possible trajectories.

Decelerationist or situationist?

Given the contours of recent intellectual fashions, it is tempting to nickname Stengers’ text The Decelerationist Manifesto. It would seem an apt counterpoint to those who urge us to “unleash latent productive forces” and “accelerate the process of technological evolution” in the name of neo-Marxist emancipation. Stengers’ own feelings on this matter are certainly clear. Invited to compare her own work to that of the likes of Nick Land, she replied:

I decline contrasting Cosmopolitics, whatever its shortcomings, with that trash – they are male chauvinist pigs, that’s all. I am only sorry for the memory of Félix Guattari, which they deface (in Turpin 2014: 179).

This comparison is, then, a risky one—a conjunction requiring careful (which is to say slow, relenting) elaboration, at greater length than is possible here.

The speculative imagination of Stengers’ works, brought together in the Manifesto in uniquely condensed, connected and accessible form, resonates richly beyond its genre. “What is an anarchist?,” asked the late, great Ursula Le Guin. “One who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice.” The active acceptance of the responsibility of concern, care, constraint and commitment is a continual refrain of Stengers’ thinking. The convergence of these two “not simply utopian” thinkers begs realization. However, this, too, would be a complicated and intricate endeavor.

In closing, I wish to take up another possible tangent (though one that passingly intersects the two above). If there is a motif even more recurrent in Stengers’ works than that of deceleration, hesitation and ralentissement, it is that of “situation.” Appearing regularly throughout her works, and peppering the Manifesto in particular, while this term does not exactly pass unelaborated, it is certainly not given the attention accorded to some. While the language of slowness has proven highly conceptually productive, I wonder, then, whether a consideration of the spatial rather than the temporal would help to address some of the evidently unhelpful conceptions resulting from overly literal understandings of the ‘slow.’ Indeed, considering the concept of ‘situation’ itself might even begin to formulate a middle (in French, milieu) through which the antagonistic opposition of the accelerating and decelerating might be thought.

The Situationist International was an organization of artists, activists and intellectuals, active between 1957 and 1972 (e.g. Wark, 2008). In the Définitions published in the first issue of Internationale Situationniste in June 1958 (French, English), a “situationist” is defined as one engaging “in the construction of situations,” a “constructed situation” being:

A moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a game of events.

Among the principal techniques to this end was “détournement”:

The integration of present or past artistic productions into a superior construction of a milieu.

And, when situations were not deliberately constructed as such, they were experimentally traversed through the “dérive”:

A mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.

Thus, situationists practiced “psychogeography”:

The study of the specific effects of the geographical milieu (whether consciously organized or not) on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.

The situationists were, moreover, a brazenly revolutionary movement, repudiating both the bourgeois capitalist order and Soviet authoritarianism, drawing on the avant-garde achievements of Dada and Surrealism. The object and basis of their critique was “culture”—“a complex of aesthetics, feelings and mores through which a collectivity reacts on the life that is objectively determined by its economy.” Contemporary “cultural forms” were diagnosed as having “destroyed themselves as a result of the emergence of superior means of dominating nature,” necessitating the realization of “superior cultural constructions.” It was out of this breakdown, then, that such a program of mesological experimentalism in service of radically new modes of collective existence was to rise.

Like so many assemblies of strapping, young (predominantly male) iconoclasts, their projects were destined for discord and dispersal. However, setting the intrigues of history to one side (May ‘68 and all that), several features of the situationist program, as set out above, are particularly important here: First, while the concept of milieu was adopted from physics and then biology in the nineteenth century, and while the situationists were certainly concerned with the historically materialized ambiance of the urban landscape, there was no sense in which these spaces might have any ecological preconditions. Their concern was superstructure, not infrastructure. Second, while no longer carrying explicit physical or biological connotations, these milieus remained impositional and explanatory. The ‘situation’ was a causal circumambience imposed upon the bodily subject and it was this dialectic that was to be understood by way of a demanding, if not exactly disciplined, program of experiments – rather like lab rats in art spaces.

Finally, and relatedly, the “situations” of 1958 were fleeting, ironic occasions of experience, to be fabricated or discarded as per the demands of rapid, uncompromising transformation. These were ‘experiments’ in the precise sense that the relation of subject and situation was ultimately arbitrary (cf. Manifesto, 53). What concerned “individuals” in an enduring sense—what made them think, feel and actively commit to one another as a community—could not, therefore, be the situations themselves. While the French milieu carries the ambiguity of meaning both ‘surrounding medium’ and ‘middle’ or ‘in-between,’ the milieu qua situation was strictly one-sided: Situations surround and impart effects upon bodies (and these are to be understood in terms of engineering revolutionary environments); however, situations cannot be ‘in-between,’ acting as the issue or sinew of solidarity. Community was, therefore, a necessarily inter-subjective commitment.

The “situation” of Stengers is, of course, markedly different, following, as it does, the tradition of “situated knowledges” (9; Haraway, 1988). Nevertheless, this is, I think, a disjuncture worth pursuing. In another recent work, Stengers lays claim to being “a daughter of the Enlightenment” in the sense that she seeks to inherit from that moment in time when “a taste for thinking and for the imagination as exercises in insubordination became widespread.” However, she adds, such an orientation necessitates “the question of how to inherit it, that is to say too, how to avoid being its rentier, the representative of an established privilege […]” (2015 [2009], 108).

If there is to be a ‘slow geography,’ I would like to suggest that it would be a ‘situationist’ geography—but not after the model of the 1960s. Their concern with merely “cultural” disintegration must today seem quaint, their dialectical milieus amusingly dematerialized. Today, we must feel both sides of the milieu; as Stengers writes:

Being capable of situating oneself – situating what one knows, and actively linking it to questions that one brings in and to ways of working that respond to it – implies being indebted to the existence of others who ask different questions, importing them into the situation differently, relating to the situation in a way that resists appropriation in the name of any kind of abstract ideal (45).

The luxury of defaulting on all ontological debts except those owed to one’s comrades (and when even these are subject to considerable volatility) is neither the situation in which we find ourselves nor the mode of relation through which we must build our politics. Yes, in urgent times, we must slow ourselves; open interstices, feel our way through our milieus, and think. Whereas a dérive is tasked to cut rapid, trans-situational passages as faithlessly and impertinently as possible, a ralentissement cannot disavow its manifold commitments. It does not wander but weaves, actively accepting “the responsibility of choice.”

A slowing situation is relenting, viscous and supple. It does not explain those drawn into it but rather challenges those moving through it to explicate their problems and commitments in a manner conducive to the possibility of complementarity and, then, coordination. Stengers’ Manifesto, as I have read it, is just such a situation. It calls to reclaim the sciences by dissolving the amalgam named “Science” (singular-capitalised) and situating its particular practical modalities in terms of their milieu—that is, in terms of what connects them with their world, what mediates their engagements with others and what they rely on to continue existing. Less psychogeography than cosmogeography—a cosmography for our times.

The promise of passions

However, in closing it might be wise to circle back to where this exploration began. Insofar as the above has undertaken a defence (and then an extension) of Stengers’ argument, I must take care not to conclude so hastily as to betray it. As she has been arguing for at least 25 years (e.g. 2000 [1993]), in her Manifesto, Stengers insists that the reactions of scientists angered by sociological deconstructions of their practice should not be denounced in turn but, rather, taken seriously (86-87). It is crucial, then, that Schnellmann’s refusal of slowness, “as a pharmacologist…,” is spoken “passionately.” Passion holds the promise of politics.

Moreover, I am inclined to render an ear sympathetic in one further respect: While this Manifesto is perhaps Stengers’ most accessible text as regards her philosophy of science, its reading certainly rewards familiarity with Deleuzian philosophy, anarchist politics and debates in the sociology of science and technology over the past several decades. In situating Stengers’ text itself, then, one ought to acknowledge the inevitable divergences that the less familiarized (but nevertheless crucial) regions of its readership will take.

If the first purpose of slow science is to address scientists in such a way as they can recognize and participate in an agenda of collective defence against forces that caustically corrupt their most valued practices, then this is surely an agenda scarcely begun. This is not, of course, to suggest that scientists (natural, social, ‘professionalized’ or otherwise) are in any way stupid, incapable of profound creativity, or, indeed, of substantial self-awareness. It would be disastrous if the rather broad brushstrokes needed for a work such as this (a manifesto, indeed) were to alienate or insult those who are already amenable to (or actively carrying out) such an agenda. Bearing this in mind, it seems to me that Stengers’ Manifesto entails a double demand: first, for radical politics to take the sciences as neither vanguard nor adversary (these being equally ‘fast’ and easy conclusions); and, second, for scientists to entertain the possibility of a political role beyond that of being grey eminences, doomsday clock-setters or, as of late, mass demonstrators (as welcome as such developments may be).

Another Science is Possible is the best kind of political work—refusing to declare itself ‘radical,’ it is instead radicalizing. However, that very modesty risks obscuring its intellectual energy—indeed, its passion. It is for this reason that the above has presented a perhaps partial and certainly self-interested impression of the text in question. This is, I believe, warranted of a text that seeks not to propound but to propose, not to striate but to situate, not to issue edicts but to offer examples, not to conclude but to open. It is in this spirit that I have taken it up, and I encourage others to do likewise.



[1] A productive comparison with Norbert Elias’ notion of ‘the civilizing process’ (1978 [1939]) could be made here but I will leave that for another day.


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Philip Conway is a PhD candidate in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University. His thesis is titled ‘The Historical Ontology of Environment: From the Unity of Nature to the Birth of Geopolitics.’ He blogs at and micro-blogs @PhilipRConway.

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