Thursday, April 10, 2014

Peter Gallison and Caroline A. Jones, “Factory, Laboratory, Studio: Dispersing Sites of Production”

For this article, authors Peter Gallison and Caroline A. Jones take a scientific-art hybrid approach. The premise of the article is that postwar artists and scientists not only "occupied common ground" (more than is commonly realized) but they also experienced “synchronic” shifts in that common ground. Following World War II, they contend, both scientists and artists saw a transformation in the “architectural and discursive spaces thought to be peculiar to their disciplines.” This transformation across both realms was composed of three main phases. Briefly, these were centralization, in the post-war through the late 1960s; physical dispersion, in the 1970s; and electronic dispersal, in the 1980s and 1990s. Gallison and Jones point out that these phases where not internationally uniform, nor were they uniformly accepted by participants. For example, the United States compared to Europe, was much quicker to exhibit the development of the immediate post-war period, even though a number of noteworthy scientists pushed back against centralization (which they perceived as impure or unrighteous contaminations of their work) until they ultimately accepted the field-wide transformation. This touches on another reality among the three phases: where external developments or trends had implications for architecture, they also had implications for the inhabitants of such architecture - as well as the processes of production they engaged in. 

For the purposes of this course, I will acknowledge key points of the author’s argument with respect to the parallel developments in the art world that happened in the science world, but I will mostly focus on the scientific aspects of their article. After having given myself that analytical luxury, I will look at the article not through the simple centralization/dispersion dichotomy the authors divide the article into, but through three aspects of the scientific transformation (that they identify in the last third of the article) and across the three phases that I have identified. As they state on p.529, “An experiment’s spatio-temporal bounds, the notion of a scientific author, and the methods for arriving at a scientific demonstration were all in flux.”

An experiment’s spatio-temporal bounds
This aspect of each of the three phases gets at the "actual" versus "discursive" sites that Gallison and Jones argue were both impacted in each phase. From this aspect, the other aspects which attend to the "discursive" nature of the sites follow, as you will see. Most clearly, phase 1's impact on the spatio-temporal bounds was one of directed centralization and mechanization. Based on the "exemplar of the factory" and industrial principles that emerged from World War II, experimental physics laboratories began physically centralizing in order to avoid duplication of process, among other benefits. Phase 2 had the opposite effect on the spatio-temporal bounds of an experiment: It brought about the physical dispersal of sites as well as the massive expansion of their size and scale of purpose. As the authors succinctly state, "The single factory site became less prevalent" after 1970. Finally, phase 3, which I am divvying out from the general categorization of dispersion the authors present, brought about the dispersal of sites across electronic space (think of "the net").  Importantly, they point out that “The dispersing…of scientific sites of production into the Ethernet presents us with entirely new architectures to consider. Architectures of software and managerial structures gain an unruly complexity” (p. 533). With this came debates over whether (and in what ways) to maintain a physical location – perhaps a “central campus” or “regional center” from which the main project would be run. Interestingly, Gallison and Jones intimate that such “conceptual diffusion” of science into the electronic world was invariably connected to the national goals of global leadership. As for the author's parallel to the art world, they say (on which they elaborate and qualify much more in the article) that “For artists, the factory model was much slower to make itself felt, and resistance to centralization was much more programmatic within the individualizing ethos of the avant-garde.”

The notion of a scientific author 
As the spatio-temporal bounds of an experiment began to change, quickly so to did the notions of authorship surrounding that experiment. In reference to Phase 1, Gallison and Jones say that centralization was also thought to promote group identity, although there was a hierarchical structure that likely determined the division of labor across processes and projects. They discuss the resistance by individual scientists of such centralization, which surely reflected concerns surrounding authorship by scientists of small laboratories, for example. In phase 2, the authors point out, scientists “challenged centralization in favor of physical dispersal and new modes of authorship,” and that “Previously centered executive authorship begins to be dispersed among multiple sites and multiple authors.” Phase 3 arguably brought about the biggest challenge to preexisting notions of scientific authorship. In phase 3, Gallison and Jones argue, experimental physics became more and more corporatized and the relations between business and research became closer. "With this shift," they say, "control, coordination, and ultimately authorship itself were dispersed, conditions that physicists were forced to accept” (p. 524). While this seems a bit contrary to their comment pertaining to phase 2, where scientists welcomed different notions of authorship, it is possible that the changes brought in phase 3, of which notions of authorship was one, were more than those same scientists had ever expected in the 1970s. Because of the scale on which 1980s and 1990s experiments were conducted, a division of labor was needed that "had powerful consequences." For example, Each group had to guarantee not only the physical construction of its particular component, but ultimately the physics results that came out.” (p. 526-527) Moreover questions arose such as: “Who counts as an experimenter, and what complex modifications of the subject must be articulated before scientific authorship can be ascribed?" (p. 527). As for the author's parallel to the art world, they say (on which they elaborate and qualify much more in the article) that “The effects of dispersion are, perhaps, less complete in the art world than in the physics world, because the art market works continuously to recuperate authorship and define a locus of production that can guarantee uniqueness” (p. 529).  However, Gallison and Jones also say, “the effects that were only emergent in the 1970s have spread much farther, with an unprecedented surge in collaborative authorship” (p. 530).

The methods for arriving at a scientific demonstration (or scientific production)
Both the spatio-temporal bounds of an experiment and notions of authorship were implicated in the changes brought to methods for arriving at scientific demonstration (or scientific production, as I think of it) throughout the three phases - although the relationship between each aspect is not so linear as this suggests. In phase 1, centralization was a means to an end, and that end was industrialized modes of production thought to be streamlined for efficiency. In addition, centralization was thought to alter scientific demonstration/ production in that it would was thought “to be a precondition of flexibility at the periphery” in that it created a “hub” that would prevent “the edge from drifting away” - that edge likely being considered a vital part to the overall productive and creative potential of a site. Dispersal, both physical and electronic, impacted production in similar ways across phases 2 and 3, as the up-scale fundamentally altered the methods for arriving at a scientific demonstration/ production. The sheer increase in collaborators, distance between them, and resources collectivized almost guarantee changes. Gallison are most specific about what those changes were in the 1980s and 1990s (phase 3). They point out that experiments of the 1980s included “200-700 physicists from 10-20 institutions working on $500 million of electronic equipment,” compared to the “10-20 collaborators working on a million dollar project” a decade earlier. That was result of delocalization, which eventually traversed physical bounds so that “500 or so collaborators [could be linked] together by purely electronic means, and making possible the joint composition of massive programs for the design, planning, and analysis of experiments” (p. 528). The authors also note that “Computer flow charts began to replace industrial organization charts of maps of experimental practice.” Importantly, they note the problems that arose from this: “The gigantic teams of the 1980s and 1990s…are not so much competing with each others as they are simply trying to hold together against the forces of a dispersed production and a decentered site” (p. 527). Invoking the parallels between science and art in this respect, they say that the postmodern production of science takes place across “data flows and ethernets” just as the postmodern production of art takes place not in a factory-modeled studio but in the…realms of print, film, and photographic media." (p. 498).

Importantly, Gallison and Jones frame these aspects, developments, and phases as consequential in their own right, rather than merely byproducts of more diffuse trends. As they say, “We do not see the decentering of the laboratory or the dispersal of the studio as merely ‘mirroring’ some independent, underlying change in the economy…. When they expend hundreds of millions of dollars, these laboratories are multinational corporations of consequence.”

My Questions:
  • Given that there was considerable pushback by a few noteworthy scientists, to what degree should we consider the phases/ developments complete or linear in nature? 
  • I’m having trouble with the idea of experimental physics having become a “corporation of corporations.” Isn’t that a bit overstated given other descriptions of this phase in the article?
  • Is there (is it possible/ desirable for there to be) a standardized method of assigning authorship, and if not what guarantee of return to participants have in working on a given project in the Phase 3 context?

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