Transtechnology Research Seminar Series 2021-22

Drawing Things Together: chance encounters on the dissecting-table

This year’s series continues previous years’ concerns with epistemology, contingency and perception. We embark from the idea that what we know is an accident and that different circumstances or different networks might have produced different bodies of knowledge. We consider the foundational observation from science studies that tools such as Versalius’ scalpel are one of many actors that produced the science of anatomy and its ability to rationalize, and in the end, think about the body in certain ways.

In this seminar series participants are invited to respond to Bruno Latour’s 1985 paper Visualisation and Cognition:  Drawing Things Together which concerns the craft practices of inscribing and describing that constitute modern scientific knowledge. Latour argues for deflating the grand explanations of modern science and technology by talking about the material and mundane, of ‘writing and imaging craftsmanship’ which are “so practical, so modest, so pervasive, so close the hands and the eyes that they escape attention.” (p.3) Latour’s argument that we should look directly at the material where knowledge is produced – taking a Martian view– led us to see that in the case of the biology laboratory, we might say that the laboratory practice itself was that of the “the transformation of rats and chemicals into paper” (pp.3-4).

Here Latour uses the work of artists and the development of systems such as perspective (drawing on Durer) to lay out his notion of immutable mobiles, objects which enable the transport of knowledge between domains, creating networks of information which can be cross referenced through multiple sources brought together to create overarching scientific and bureaucratic systems of knowing. Latour’s inscriptions, the results of measurements carried out using many kinds of laboratory instruments are not simply what we might call data, but the results of an homogenising force in the media that allows that which is not visible to become recorded and fixed in particular and useful ways. As he points out, all of the different facts or inscriptions represented within the same system become comparable. Being able to view them side-by-side allowed early modern scientists to move knowledge forwards by having evidence that was comparable. This knowledge can be drawn on to make arguments and produce facts that, are able to be clarified, checked, made more accurate, or superseded by very different knowledge.

Latour argues that it is the existence of these kinds of objects and forms of inscription that allow certain kinds of rationality to come into being. Far simply shaping perception directly, these immutable mobiles shape what can be known in a more fundamental sense of creating what we understand as rationality itself and enabling us to assemble allies as we argue for the construction of facts generated by our own research practices.

Aside from its great virtue, Latour’s text, published in 1985, is not an especially easy read, but it raises a number of contemporary issues. Part of our work may be to update Latours’ discussion. There are many ways we might do this. For example, in the sensory realm, we may ask how we can draw his argument beyond the visual paradigm that equates sight with knowledge or reflect on the relational and ecological approaches and critiques of the network that followed the development of the actor-network theory (ANT). We invite each contributor to identify a specific passage from the text to engage with in their presentation.

Latour, Bruno (1985) “Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together”. In, H. Kuklinck (ed) Knowledge and Society Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present, Jai Press vol. 5, pp. 1-40.

Supplementary reading can be found here

Poster examples are online here


All seminar sessions will take place at 13:00-15:00 on a Wednesday afternoon. We are currently planning to meet online. Researchers will propose abstracts to develop papers that are either 20 minutes conference style papers, or more in depth 35-40 minute papers, these can be joint papers.

Each month’s seminar is followed by a Thursday morning research update session for registered researchers, from 10am-1pm. This year we will be running monthly workshop sessions. Please add these dates to your diaries now so that you can avoid clashes with your other commitments (those of you with Plymouth addresses will receive an outlook calendar requests).

Session timetable

September 15th, 2021. Transtechnology Research Meeting and Workshop

Poster creation workshop: Research posters as immutable mobiles.

October 13th. Introductory Seminar. Prof. dr. Michael Punt and Dr Hannah Drayson.

November 10th.  Seminar session 1, presenters from TT research.

December 8th. Christmas dinner and poster session sharing current Ph.D. projects.

January 5th, 2022. Seminar session 2, presenters from TT research.

February 2nd. Seminar session 3, presenters from TT research.

March 2nd. Seminar session 4, presenters from TT research.

March 30th. Seminar session 5, presenters from TT research.

April 27th. Seminar session 6, presenters from TT research.

May 25th. Seminar session 7, presenters from TT research.

June 22nd. Business Meeting. Planning for following year and research publication.