Poiesis in Action: Doing Without Knowlewdge | Andrew Pickering

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The phrase ‘weak knowledge’ suggests there are other ways of knowing the world than the ‘strong’ knowledge of modern science. That some such alternative should exist is an old idea in philosophy. Martin Heidegger (1977) associated science with a way of being he called enframing (gestell), and he called the other way poiesis. Max Weber distinguished between two forms of rationality: instrumental and substantive. Herbert Marcuse (1964, 167) discussed ‘two contrasting rationalities.’
Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 367-74) spoke of ‘royal’ vs ‘nomad science.’ Many authors have thus speculated about an alternative to modern science, but just what it is always remains obscure. Heidegger (1997) evoked the arts of ancient Greece to exemplify poiesis, which does not get us far. Marcuse had nothing concrete at all to offer. So here I want to clarify my own sense of what this alternative to science is. I think the nature of poiesis remains obscureught is focussed on knowledge and epistemology, and that is the root of our problem.
My argument is that to get to grips with poiesis we need to think first not about knowledge but about performance and agency, about doing things in the world. More particularly, I want to think of poiesis as the deliberate staging of what I call dances of agency(Pickering 1995) as a way of coming to terms with complex and emergent systems that resist domination through knowledge. Hence my idea that we can ‘do without knowledge.’ We could say that these performances take the place of knowledge, or that, conversely, scientific knowledge often functions as a shortcut that eliminates them by (apparently) enabling us to see and design the future.
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