Workshop 1: The Experimental Condition - Introductory session

In the opening session of the workshop, Michael Krätke and Bronislaw Szerszynski welcomed participants, thanked those who had helped make the programme possible, and introduced its themes and questions.

Introduction

Michael Krätke (Director, IAS, Lancaster University) – Welcome

Michael Krätke opened the workshop by acknowledging the importance of IAS at Lancaster in enabling and promoting interdisciplinary research. As the IAS Director he situated it as a core Lancaster institution organizing interdisciplinarity in the international framework and stated that he was very pleased that the Experimentality Programme had been organized. He has also described the topic as very ambitious and followed by thanking an array of colleagues for providing institutional support for the programme.

Bronislaw Szerszynski (Sociology, Lancaster University) -Introducing the Experimentality programme

Bron Szerszynski started his introduction with an extensive thank you note addressed to all the people and institutions that had helped make the programme possible. He the described Experimentality Programme as the fruit of many years of discussions between himself, Stephanie Koerner and Brian Wynne, and outlined how these discussions had been crucial in shaping research themes and choosing the involvement
of different communities of scholars.

Secondly, he addressed the crucial question of what is experimentality and emphasized how the programme is set out to bring together different themes influential in contemporary theory in relation to the experiment and the experimental.  He suggested a core meaning of the experimentaal was the idea of "pushing on the world and seeing how it pushes back" - a definition that was repeatedly referred to in the debates that took place during the first workshop.

Szerszynski listed some of the main theoretical influences that hace shaped the programme, including Shapin and Schaffer's Leviathan and the Airpump. This seminal analysis of the rise of experimentalism in the seventeenth century argued that the power of experimentation to produce facts capable of circulating in society depended not only on new scientific technologies, but also new social and literary technologies, including practises of witnessing, and made the key point that experimentalism was reated to the production of social order.

This introductory note was a wide-ranging opening and an energetic encouragement for productive dialogue. The key questions probed the areas of: what is and isn't experimental, the ideas of tradition being experimental in itself, the relationship between design and experimentation, and the range of synonyms of experimentality (test, trial, play, demonstration, simulation, play and so on).

As a key trope in modern society and a problematic of the western self-image, Szerszynski pointed to the puzzling duality in a way we use experimentality today. On the one hand experimentation is seen as producing objective truth, closing down possibilities and silencing politics; on the other hand experimentation is also used in a more open-ended way, in terms of ideas of endless play, freedom and creativity.

He emphasized that towards the end of the programme there would be an increasing emphasis on how to use experimentality to think about other modernities and alternative possible futures. Szerszynski stressed that where we are now is the result of contingent choices and turns, and that reflecting on the relation between truth, science and freedom in relation to the deep history of modernity could opening up possibilities of other paths for the future.  He questioned what happens when the practises of experimentality as truth and the production of social order as practiced in the closed space of the laboratory are generalized to the world as a whole, so that we all become a part of a general experiment, with potentially profound ethico-political implications.