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Cosmopolitics I

2010
Author:

Isabelle Stengers
Translated by Robert Bononno

Cosmopolitics I

A sweeping critique of the role and authority of modern science in contemporary society

Isabelle Stengers’s sweeping work of philosophical inquiry builds on her previous intellectual accomplishments to explore the role of science in modern societies and to challenge its pretensions to objectivity, rationality, and truth. For Stengers, science is a constructive enterprise, a diverse, interdependent, and highly contingent system that does not simply discover preexisting truths but, through specific practices and processes, helps shape them.

In this remarkable book, Isabelle Stengers extracts from the traditional word cosmopolitism its two constituents, the cosmos and its politics; she argues that a politics that will not be attached to a cosmos is moot, and that a cosmos detached from politics is irrelevant. It is the great originality of the book to renew our definition of what it is ‘to belong’ or ‘to pertain’ to the world by diving deep into the sciences in order to extract their hidden cosmopolitics. Cosmopolitics I will be of immense interest for practicing scientists as well as for activists and concerned citizens.

Bruno Latour

From Einstein’s quest for a unified field theory to Stephen Hawking’s belief that we ‘would know the mind of God’ through such a theory, contemporary science—and physics in particular—has claimed that it alone possesses absolute knowledge of the universe. In a sweeping work of philosophical inquiry, originally published in French in seven volumes, Isabelle Stengers builds on her previous intellectual accomplishments to explore the role and authority of science in modern societies and to challenge its pretensions to objectivity, rationality, and truth.

For Stengers, science is a constructive enterprise, a diverse, interdependent, and highly contingent system that does not simply discover preexisting truths but, through specific practices and processes, helps shape them. She addresses conceptual themes crucial for modern science, such as the formation of physical-mathematical intelligibility, from Galilean mechanics and the origin of dynamics to quantum theory, the question of biological reductionism, and the power relations at work in the social and behavioral sciences. Focusing on the polemical and creative aspects of such themes, she argues for an ecology of practices that takes into account how scientific knowledge evolves, the constraints and obligations such practices impose, and the impact they have on the sciences and beyond.

This perspective, which demands that competing practices and interests be taken seriously rather than merely (and often condescendingly) tolerated, poses a profound political and ethical challenge. In place of both absolutism and tolerance, she proposes a cosmopolitics—modeled on the ideal scientific method that considers all assumptions and facts as being open to question—that reintegrates the natural and the social, the modern and the archaic, the scientific and the irrational.

Cosmopolitics I includes the first three volumes of the original work. Cosmopolitics II will be published by the University of Minnesota Press in Spring 2011.

Cosmopolitics I

Trained as a chemist and philosopher, Isabelle Stengers has authored or coauthored more than twenty-five books and two hundred articles on the philosophy of science. In the 1970s and 1980s, she worked with Nobel Prize recipient Ilya Prigogine, with whom she wrote Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature. Her interests include chaos theory, the history of science, the popularization of the sciences, and the contested status of hypnosis as a legitimate form of psychotherapy. She is a professor of philosophy at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Her books Power and Invention: Situating Science (1997) and The Invention of Modern Science (2000) have been translated into English and published by the University of Minnesota Press.


Robert Bononno, a teacher and translator, lives in New York City. He has translated more than a dozen books, including Psychoanalysis and the Challenge of Islam by Fethi Benslama (Minnesota, 2009) and Decolonization and the Decolonized by Albert Memmi (Minnesota, 2006). He was a finalist for the French–American translation prize for his translation of René Crevel’s My Body and I.

Cosmopolitics I

In this remarkable book, Isabelle Stengers extracts from the traditional word cosmopolitism its two constituents, the cosmos and its politics; she argues that a politics that will not be attached to a cosmos is moot, and that a cosmos detached from politics is irrelevant. It is the great originality of the book to renew our definition of what it is ‘to belong’ or ‘to pertain’ to the world by diving deep into the sciences in order to extract their hidden cosmopolitics. Cosmopolitics I will be of immense interest for practicing scientists as well as for activists and concerned citizens.

Bruno Latour

Isabelle Stengers presents us with a new way of understanding a remarkably diverse range of sciences and their relation to a material and living world. Playing with a position both inside the practices that constitute and transform science and outside the sciences as their mode of conceptualization, Stengers explores the limits, constraints, and inventions that fuse modern science and contemporary society.

Elizabeth Grosz

Cosmopolitics I is not just an important intervention in the history and philosophy of science; it announces a new and original approach to the problems and procedures of philosophy.

Radical Philosophy

Her writings represent a significantly creative practice and her inventions take the reader on a journey of learning and transformation that most educationalists could only dream of for their students.

London Review of Education