Epistemic, Cognitive Practices in Statistical Consultations: An Actor Network Approach
Wright, Kenneth Allen
Actor Network Theory (ANT) is invoked in order to characterize the performance of objects in demonstrations around representational forms, examples of which include tables, equations, graphs, and embodied, “narrative assemblies.” Statisticians and medical scientists typically depict patterns within populations of objects from the clinic or the laboratory and bind features in (local) representational forms to (global) descriptions of objects elsewhere. Objects perform in the sense that consequential decisions or knowledge claims are posed as contingent upon what these objects do as revealed in impending representational forms. Within their cognitive practice, states of affairs are true because networks of relations have been forged to hold things together. This cognitive practice of demonstrating is shown to be historically rooted and special to the sciences. Drawing from Cognitive Ethnography, learning is characterized here in terms of adaptation within a complex system that includes people and infrastructure. The empirical cases presented here are interpreted from this perspective of ANT in order to provide images of the cognitive practice of learning and images of the cognitive practice of knowledge-production. These empirically-based descriptions provide relevant images of (1) modeling practices in schools, (2) the agency of humans with respect to the agency of mathematical objects with which they interact, and (3) the dialogic nature of learning scientific concepts and scientific practice.