Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

"The Making of (Un)certainty in Knowledge Production: Rhetoric at Play in a Heritability Controversy" (by Angelica Camacho and Dominique Robert): Review 1

Published onSep 28, 2023
"The Making of (Un)certainty in Knowledge Production: Rhetoric at Play in a Heritability Controversy" (by Angelica Camacho and Dominique Robert): Review 1

Vote: Publish pending minor changes.

The paper addresses itself as an inference drawn from the notion of the construction of knowledge. While more than a critical mass of the sociology of knowledge concerns itself with detailing how knowledge tends to be built, there’s a paucity of effort allocated in the direction of how knowledge can be intentionally obfuscated through one means or another. Taking an example drawn from contemporary criminological discourse, the authors offer a case study in agnatology. They construct their case by examining the common citations used by competing biosocial theorists. Each of the combatants works to elbow aside the claims of their critics through a 3D process (denial, dismissal, and displacement). The goal is to sow uncertainty in their opponents’ assertions through problematizing their arguments.

There are precious few papers in this vein in the field. Therefore, it deserves an opportunity to inform our understanding of how knowledge claims are adjudicated. There are too few meaningful debates that are staged such as the one that provides the centerpiece for their analysis. The fact that it appeared in the ASC’s flagship journal and that the key figures in biosocial criminology turned up to duke it out make this ideal fodder for a post hoc debriefing of sorts.

The analysis is framed as an internecine contest of wits. Yes, that is undoubtedly a guiding interest of the parties involved. However, there are clearly other motivating factors involved as well. Indeed, the editor(s) of Criminology thought that hosting the exchange would benefit the wider criminological community. Knowledge claims absolutely matter to insiders in the now-renamed biopsychosocial theoretical camp but the audience is playing a pivotal role in adjudicating the claims. One wonders though, whether there’s a Roman audience or Kissingerian kind of effect playing itself out here, though—blood lust and a “a pity both sides can’t lose here”.

There are two points that I will offer for the authors’ consideration as a means to enhance their submission. Both of these relate to establishing the rules of combat. The first is that of the (to continue the analogy above) appeal of the gladiator in the ring to the crowd. Some additional reflection on the meaning of invoking this or that rhetorical strategy would provide greater insight into what the respective authors assumed the larger field finds compelling in terms of evidence. These can be read as attempts to appeal to potential allies by creating a common cause on some margin or another. In that way, they are assuaging doubts by posturing in a manner that intimates they are, despite their reservations, indeed Sympatico.

The other point relates to the limits (if any) of their attempts to annihilate, obliterate, and exterminate the other point of view. Are there any points of fundamental agreement between the two biosocial camps? In the larger scope of criminology, they are certainly much more alike than they are different. Furthermore, and this can barely be overemphasized, both are similarly marginalized in a political sense. The balance of the field’s experts tend to regard both parties with equal disdain and see them as a stalking horse for revanchist eugenics. Perhaps the review of each party’s characterization of common citations reveals that there is some accommodation for a shared scientific gestalt? Then again, maybe there’s no quarter given, and each is working to placate the mass of critics outside the citadel of bio-crim by offering them the metaphorical corpse of their immediate adversary in the hopes it will buy them more time before they themselves are attacked.

While the above might look like a tall order, I’ve listed this as a minor revision. No need to redraft the entire front end, or anything of that sort. A handful of paragraphs placed here and there ought to suffice. I hope that, like the editorial decision at Criminology to host the initiating debate, widening the scope here to engage the larger field will enhance the readability of the piece. The fear is that potential readers will dismiss it as an artifact of bio-social crim naval gazing. But like Nicky Rafter’s work (and humbly, some of my own) has attempted, these episodes tell us about the field and, beyond that, the intellectual era in which we live.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?