scientific knowledge in this way, however, as an ideal, ahistorical
content that a knower grasps or possesses, is to overlook the
complex practical achievements through which scientific domains
become accessible. Only within such a complex practical field,
shaped by the availability of functional and reliable equipment, and
a variety of subtle technical and theoretical skills, do electrons,
viruses, tectonic plates, or quasars become possible objects of
knowledge or discourse. Thus the propositions in which
sovereign knowledge is supposedly expressed get their sense from a
complex and heterogeneous field of practices and capabilities."
epistemological dynamics takes these strategic alignments to be
constitutive of knowledge. Thus, knowledge is not a status that
attaches to particular statements, skills, or models in isolation or
instantaneously. Rather, their epistemic standing depends upon
their relations to many other practices and capabilities, and especially
upon the ways these relations are reproduced, transformed, and extended.
Knowledge is temporally diffused or deferred; to take something as
knowledge is to project its being taken up as a resource for various
kinds of ongoing activity--whether in further research or in various
applications of knowledge. In this sense, the word 'applications'
is somewhat misleading, since in the broadest sense we do not first gain
knowledge, then apply it; something counts as knowledge only through the
ways it is interpreted in use.
Knowledge in this sense circulates, and even the various
points at which it is articulated, or even collected and assessed, are
caught up in its circulation. What is proposed as possible new
knowledge, whether in informal discussion or initial publication, has an
element of tentativeness about it. What is gathered together in
retrospective judgment is always oriented toward a further advance, and
shaped by that projection. What I would now conclude from my
argument in Knowledge and Power and a subsequent paper is thus
that there is no place where epistemic sovereignty is actually located.
The scientific literature itself is always continually reorganizing what
is known as a resource for further investigation,; it is also always
contested. Yet philosophical attempts to stand outside or above
the contested recycling of knowledge always verge upon irrelevance.
As I have argued elsewhere, if a judgment from a philosophical
standpoint of supposed epistemic sovereignty were to conflict with the
ways claims of knowledge are taken up and deployed in the course of
research, it could be vindicated only within the contested strategic
field in which claims of knowledge are transformed, reproduced, or left
"I need to say more about this claim that scientific knowledge is
always contested, the parallel to Foucault's insistence that power
always confronts resistance. Once it is recognized that knowledge
exists only through its reproduction and circulation, the importance of
conflict becomes evident: conflict focuses and directs that circulation.
Knowledge is developed in an agonistic field, and will typically be
contested in very specific respects."
"Beyond Epistemic Sovereignty," Joseph Rouse, from The Disunity
of Science, Stanford University Press, 1996, pps. 406-409.