Searle on Institutions

Part 1 Searle on Institutions

Questions of ethics, I would argue, typically emerge within contexts that implicate institutions in a variety of ways (the Challenger case being just one obvious example). But we can ask: what is an institution, broadly speaking? Must they be entities like corporations, businesses, universities, government agencies, and the like? What ELSE can they be? Further, what if any are the institutional dimensions of practices/professions like “engineering”? And what is the relationship between the titles and credentials given engineers, and the responsibilities the bear, as well as the rights and other affordances they enjoy?

These questions may prove more difficult than one might think at the outset of such an undertaking. Reading Searle and Miller will offer us a basis for coming to better terms with issues like these.

ASSIGNMENT: Read the Searle article (“What is an Institution?”) and Miller’s part two from

Then, tangle with a key concept from one of the readings in some fashion.

Part 2  Lay Expertise and Boundary Work

These next two readings pair nicely, and are designed to get you thinking about what “science” is. Is science best understood as a set of discreet methods uniformly applied to problems in the physical world? Is it better thought of as a group of less well-defined practices that vary in ways that are not always predictable or bound by strict method? And who is authorized to conduct scientific experiments and influence debates about proper scientific activity? Both Gieryn’s brief history of the “boundary work” done by 19th century scientists and Epstein’s fascinating study of ACT UP activists’ penetration of the typically hermetic arena of clinical trial discourse tell us something important about the work done under the rubric of science.

ASSIGNMENT: Discuss on a new thread one or more key issues that emerge from the readings, being sure to try to engage earlier discussants in dialogue after the third post. Earlier discussants should make a second post later in the week to respond to later posts. The goal here is to start a series of discussion about issues arising from a close reading of these work



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