Missing the (question) mark? What is a turn to ontology?

25 May 2015

DOI: 10.1177/0306312715584010 Javier Lezaun Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS), School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK Steve Woolgar Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK; Department of Thematic Studies – Technology and Social Change, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden

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An introductory essay in the Social Studies of Science journal's 2013 Special Issue on the ‘turn to ontology’ examined the shift from epistemology to ontology in science and technology studies and explored the implications of the notion of enactment. Three responses to that Special Issue argue that (1) there is no fundamental qualitative difference between the ontological turn and social constructivism, (2) we need to be wary of overly generic use of the term ‘ontology’ and (3) the language of ‘turns’ imposes constraints on the richness and diversity of science and technology studies. In this brief reply, the authors show how each of those critiques varies in its commitment to circumspection about making objective determinations of reality and to resisting reification. They illustrate this point by considering overlapping discussions in anthropology. This brings out the crucial difference between the science and technology studies slogan ‘it could be otherwise’ and the multinaturalist motto ‘it actually is otherwise’.