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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Andrew Pickering

IAS Fellow and Pemberton Fellow, University College, Durham University (October - December 2010)

Professor Andrew Pickering is chair of sociology at the University of Exeter. He has a PhD in theoretical elementary particle physics from University College London (1973) and another in science studies from the University of Edinburgh (1984). Before returning to Britain in 2007, he was for many years professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Along the way he has held distinguished fellowships at MIT, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Princeton University, the Guggenheiim Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Pickering has published extensively in the area of science and technology studies (STS). His first book, Constructing Quarks (1984), is a definitive history of postwar particle physics up to the establishment of the so-called 'standard model.' The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science (1984) was a landmark in the study of scientific practice, especially in its focus on the materiality of science and the temporal emergence of scientific culture. His latest book, The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future, explores the history of cybernetics as an alternative paradigm for grasping the world from that of the modern sciences. He is also the editor of two influential edited volumes: Science as Practice and Culture (1992), which was at the heart of the practice-turn in STS, and The Mangle in Practice: Science, Society, and Becoming (2008), which extends and generalises his perspective on practice to areas beyond the confines of STS. His writings have been translated into French, German, Italian and Chinese.

Pickering's current research grows out of his work on cybernetics. At the IAS he will be exploring three intertwined themes: (1) questions of ontology, of what the world is like and of our place in it; (2) the ways in which new ontological visions can contribute to productive inter- or even anti-disciplinary intersections; and (3) the ways in which such visions can be staged, explored and elaborated in real-world practices, now and in the future. A particular focus will be on unconventional artworks that can be understood as ontological theatre-as both staging and exploring nonmodern visions of the world.

The theme of the future is central to this research. Nonmodern ontologies problematise the idea that we can predict and control the future, emphasising instead emergence and becoming. At the same time, projects that stage a nonmodern ontology can be read as 'sketches of another future'-models for novel forms of life. Politically, prediction and control go with a stance of Heideggerian enframing and domination; nonmodern projects exemplify instead an alternative stance-that of revealing, of a performative and experimental openness to what the world and the future can offer us.


Professor Andrew Pickering Publications

Pickering, A (2011) 'Cyborg Spirituality', Medical History, 55(3), pp. 349-353

IAS Insights Paper


In a brief and preliminary way, this essay seeks to open up some of the concerns of my current research. I want to continue the shift from an epistemological to an ontological perspective on science, technology and our being in the world. The essay opens with some ground-clearing: a discussion of standard epistemological perspectives on scientific realism. This motivates a shift to questions of agency, material as well as human, and an extension of my earlier analysis of the ‘dance of agency' to include the concepts of ‘freestanding machines,' ‘making the world dual' and ‘islands of stability.' The essay concludes with a discussion of art as ‘ontological theatre' - as staging and helping us to grasp different ontological visions. The connection to the IAS theme of ‘futures' is important but largely implicit here. The process of making dual can be understood as an attempt to fix and freeze the future. I argue that this stance is underpinned by a mistaken ontology and inevitably evokes unintended consequences, which can take the form of disasters and catastrophes. I am therefore interested in exemplifying and exploring an alternative stance that recognises unpredictability and emergence and is open to what the world has to offer us.

Insights Paper