If Intervention Is Method, What Are We Learning?

Keywords: intervention, methods, sentimentality, artful contamination, normativity


In STS and Researcher Intervention Strategies, Brian Martin expresses his concern about the lack of strategic guidance STS offers for intervening in controversies in which actors are being marginalized. This is an interesting contrast with some classic critiques of Actor-Network Theory. Leigh Star famously argued that the over-emphasis of ANT on strategic action made it particularly poorly equipped to study heterogeneity––an analytical and political problem at once. I argue that guidance on intervention as research method should actively resist the urge to make intervention “strategic.” Considering intervention as a scholarly method for producing novel insights about our topics is diametrically opposed to considering intervention strategically, that is, as means to achieving predefined scholarly or normative goals. Drawing on previous, recent, and ongoing work on intervention as an equally non-strategic and non-detached method for developing new knowledge and new normativities, I explore how such work would speak to Martin’s challenge of intervening in controversies and what could be some interesting lessons such an experiment might spark.  A strategic take on intervention is important for Martin because it challenges a linear model of STS knowledge production: scholars prioritizing the development of greater understanding of phenomena, hoping that such knowledge can then be beneficial for society later on. Approaching intervention as method, however, challenges problematic linear models of STS knowledge, not by inverting the linearity (from areas of social importance to knowledge production), but by extending non-linear scholarship to our own and others’ normativities. This allows STS scholars to take their concerns about the practices they are involved in seriously without violating their equal attachment to reflexivity, unpredictability, and situatedness. Such a prospect may help STS scholars to explore what it means to live the multiple membership of societally and academically concerned communities, which is what considering intervention strategically would make us lose.

Author Biography

Teun Zuiderent-Jerak, Department of Thematic Studies – Technology and Social Change Linköping University

Teun Zuiderent-Jerak is LiU Research Fellow at the Department of Thematic Studies – Technology and Social Change of Linköping University, Sweden. His research focuses on standardization and quality improvement practices in healthcare, the construction of markets for public values, and sociological research that explicitly aims to intervene in the practices it studies.

He has published in the British Medical Journal, BMJ Quality and Safety, BMC Medical Research Methodology, Health Care Analysis, Health Economics, Policy and Law, Health Expectations, Health Policy, Human-Computer Interaction, Science as Culture, Science, Technology, and Human Values, Social Science & Medicine, and Social Studies of Science. His book Situated Intervention; Sociological Experiments in Health Care was published in 2015 by the MIT Press.

25 May 2016