The politics of the "sokal affair"

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Department of Humanities


IN SPRING 1996, as part of the backlash against significant changes in the cultural and political climate in the US, New York University physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated a “hoax�? on the journal Social Text, when he submitted an article titled “Transgressing the boundaries: toward a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity�? (Sokal 1996c). The Social Text collective included it as the final piece in their spring/summer 1996 special issue on “Science Wars�? (Social Text 1996), which focused on the recent debates in the field of science studies and attacks on it by some members of the scientific community and the political right. Coinciding with the release of Social Text, Lingua Franca, in collusion with Sokal, published another article by Sokal exposing the Social Text article as purposefully fraudulent (Sokal 1996b; herein referred to as the Sokal expose). Sokal explains that he had become convinced of the “apparent decline in the standards of rigor in certain precincts of the academic humanities�? and sought to confirm his conviction (Sokal 1996b: 62). He confessed that his article was “a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies - whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross - publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions?" (Sokal 1996b: 62). The answer for Sokal, and for many others, has been a simple “yes.�? And the “experiment�? has been taken largely as demonstrating that the humanities - or at least some sectors of it - have become corrupted.

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© 2000 Selection and editorial matte r Jan ine Marchessault and Kim Sawchuk; and individual chapters the contributors. All rights reserved. Publisher’s version of record:

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Wild Science: Reading Feminism, Medicine and the Media