Tidescapes: Notes on a shi (勢)-inflected Social Science

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John Law
Wen-yuan Lin


What might it be to write a post-colonial social science? And how might the intellectual legacy of Chinese classical philosophy—for instance Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu—contribute to such a project? Reversing the more usual social science practice in which EuroAmerican concepts are applied in other global locations, this paper instead considers how a “Chinese” term, shi (shì, 勢, or “propensity”) might be used to explore the UK’s 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic. Drawing on anthropological insights into mis/translation between different worlds and their alternative ways of knowing and being, the paper explores that epidemic in three differently inspired shi-inflected “empirical” accounts. The first uses Sun Tzu’s strategic understanding of shi to tell a conventionally representational story. The second resists the causes and background factors implied in standard social science by offering a “light” and shi-inflected form of knowing. And the third combines the referentiality of social science with a Lao Tzu-informed commitment to the paradoxes of normative epigram. This third narrative thus illustrates the possible features of a situated and shi-inflected social science that recognizes that it participates in the contexted and immanent flows and counterflows of things in the world. The paper concludes by noting that such a shi-inflected social science is experimental, and suggests that it is important to explore a range of ways of reversing the flow of concepts between EuroAmerica and other global locations.

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How to Cite
Law, J., & Lin, W.- yuan. (2018). Tidescapes: Notes on a shi (勢)-inflected Social Science. Journal of World Philosophies, 3(1), 1–16. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.iu.edu/iupjournals/index.php/jwp/article/view/1612
Author Biographies

John Law

John Law is Emeritus Professor at the Open University, UK, and holds visiting and honorary appointments respectively at the Sámi Allaskuvla in Norway, and Lancaster University. He works collaboratively on mis/translation where the object is to explore possible “non-western” and non-English-language academic ways of knowing, with the aim of both provincializing and enriching social science. In collaboration with Sámi colleagues, he is also currently using material semiotic methods to explore power-saturated postcolonial environmental encounters between science and policy on the one hand, and indigenous knowledges of land in Sápmi on the other. His website is at www.heterogeneities.net.

Wen-yuan Lin

Wen-yuan Lin is Professor at the National Tsing-hua University, Taiwan, Republic of China. He uses STS material semiotic approaches to explore emerging alternative knowing spaces and the politics of empirical ontology in technological and medical practices. He is currently working on two projects. In the first he is tracing the transformation of regimes of chronic illness in contemporary Taiwan, and in the second he is exploring the possibility of mobilizing alternative mode of knowing to provincialize the frameworks of EuroAmerican social sciences.