What are the meanings of calcium in physiology?
The embodiment of cultural history: Michel Foucault

(Note: name change - this used to be called "Material History: Foucault" but material has too many other meanings.)
Michel Foucault's ideas of global and subjugated knowledges and his ways of reasking old questions in new forms allow a useful approach to the differences between theory and practice in biology. The Indian physicist Vandana Shiva uses this approach (amongst others) in 'Monocultures of the Mind' (1993). Although Mayr (1997) paints a pluralist view of biology, Shiva shows the practice of biology in agriculture to rely to much on theory and not enough on local knowledge of ecologies. The interests of the large agrochemical corporations and the practice of genetic patenting also tend to favour an industrialised western knowledge over local agricultural knowledge (see Shiva 1998 for example).

In his general methodology of finding the concrete ways in which political and medical theories where converted into social practice, Foucault echoes the way which some scientists actually work. His rejection of 'theories of everything' (one reading of his fourth methodological precaution 1980, pp.99-100) closely matches the arguments used by the biologist Jack Cohen and mathematician Ian Stewart in 'Collapse of Chaos' (1994). Eric Darier's book 'Discourses of the Environment' looks at how Foucault's ideas have been applied to ecological problems (but I haven't bought it yet).


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Created 30/5/99
Last modified 10/2/00