Hélène Mialet has held positions at Cornell University, Harvard University and Oxford University (where she ran the program in Science Studies at the Maison Française of Oxford University); she has also held post-doctoral fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University (under the auspices of the Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, sponsored by the European Union for extremely promising young scholars). She has published widely on subjectivity, agency, innovation and cognition.She is currently teaching in the Rhetoric Department of the University of California at Berkeley and working on a new project concerned with the study of new networks of knowledge production and expertise constituted by 'laypersons' (e.g., electronic lists organized around specific themes like parents of children with juvenile diabetes).
These days, the idea of the cyborg is less the stuff of science fiction and more a reality, as we are all, in one way or another, constantly connected, extended, wired, and dispersed in and through technology. One wonders where the individual, the person, the human, and the body are—or, alternatively, where they stop. These are the kinds of questions Hélène Mialet explores in this fascinating volume, as she focuses on a man who is permanently attached to assemblages of machines, devices, and collectivities of people: Stephen Hawking.
Drawing on an extensive and in-depth series of interviews with Hawking, his assistants and colleagues, physicists, engineers, writers, journalists, archivists, and artists, Mialet reconstructs the human, material, and machine-based networks that enable Hawking to live and work. She reveals how Hawking—who is often portrayed as the most singular, individual, rational, and bodiless of all—is in fact not only incorporated, materialized, and distributed in a complex nexus of machines and human beings like everyone else, but even more so. Each chapter focuses on a description of the functioning and coordination of different elements or media that create his presence, agency, identity, and competencies. Attentive to Hawking’s daily activities, including his lecturing and scientific writing, Mialet’s ethnographic analysis powerfully reassesses the notion of scientific genius and its associations with human singularity. This book will fascinate anyone interested in Stephen Hawking or an extraordinary life in science.
In L’Entreprise Créatrice Hélène Mialet uses the tools of the sociologist, the ethnographer, and the ethnomethodologist to study innovation in an applied research laboratory of a major international corporation. Though there have been a number of prominent ethnographic studies of scientific laboratories in recent years, the world of industrial research is still not very well documented. L’Entreprise Créatrice offers a detailed description of the collective practices constitutive of invention. At the same time, it also presents a picture of how a single research scientist (considered by both his peers, and the institution for which he works, as the pre-eminent expert behind the discovery of ground breaking new techniques) emerges within these collective operations and distinguishes himself through the creative skills he applies in formulating working instruments, organizational structures and human relations. More specifically, through the emergence of an object considered as new (in this case, a new way of computer modeling oil fluids), Mialet was able to chart the processes by which an innovation came into being. She described how this object modified practices, how it changed the modes of research, how it altered the behavior of actors, and ultimately how it came to redistribute competencies between machines, tools, techniques, colleagues, organizational hierarchies, and the environment. Moreover, as she followed the object as it was used, Mialet could see how the particular competencies associated with its inventor came to be articulated with increasing precision. This enabled her to show how the mechanisms of acknowledgement, linked partially to the company's criteria of novelty assessment, came to qualify the inventor and his inventions. In this sense, in trying to define the practice of invention, she sought to put into relief the kinds of competencies the individual inventor deploys to invent. At the same time, she also explained how this individual inventor was able to transfer his know-how to his colleagues, and the strategies he used to convince these colleagues, as well as his external partners (universities, industrial companies, research laboratories), that his invention was important. Mialet thus showed both that the invention is distributed throughout this collective process while, at the same time, that it is through this collective process, (this addition of mediations) that the creative individual actually comes into being.
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