Prof. Schaefer Receives 2023 Ludwik Fleck Prize from Society for Social Studies of Science

Associate Professor Donovan Schaefer was just announced as the winner of the 2023 Fleck Prize for his book Wild Experiment: Feeling Science and Secularism after Darwin. 

Here is the committee's description of the book: 

The Ludwik Fleck Prize Committee for 2023 is pleased to announce this year’s winner, Donovan O. Schaefer’s Wild Experiment: Feeling Science and Secularism after Darwin (Duke University Press, 2022). Wild Experiment is a rare book that returns to some foundational STS questions of the character of knowledge and knowledge-making, and it does so by demonstrating persuasively the inextricability of knowing and feeling. In challenging the cognition-emotion binary, Schaefer offers a fresh perspective on classic thinkers that have informed STS since its foundation, including Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi, in a way that is deeply informed by feminist and anti-racist scholarship. Schaefer’s argument that thinking is feeling and that if knowledge is felt, it is always in intimate proximity to other things we feel—things we want—including our secretly savored prejudices goes much beyond an academic discussion on the nature of scientific knowledge. It directly relates to the current political moment, because feeling makes science work, but it also leads to the collapse of good knowledge. The book addresses urgent topics ranging from racism and Islamophobia to denialism of evolution and climate change, and unsettles any easy distinction between scientific rationality and other modes of thinking. The cogency theory on how science feels, which is proposed in the book as a main guide to connect various areas and cases, draws on a broad range of literatures and sources, such as history and philosophy of science, contemporary psychology, affect theory, queer theory, and especially secularism studies. Through Schaefer’s endeavor to expand the conversation between secularism studies and STS, the field of STS has an illuminating new vantage from which to look at knowledge, feeling, and belief. And it feels right.

And here is Professor Schaefer's acceptance statement:

It is a tremendous honor to receive the 2023 Ludwik Fleck Prize. STS is foundational to my scholarship and I could not be more thankful for the committee’s consideration of my work. I also want to express my gratitude to my colleagues and my extraordinary students for constantly challenging me to confront the stakes of knowledge-production in the classroom and beyond.

In Wild Experiment, I call for a reassessment of the role of emotion in scientific knowledge-production. Combining feminist, antiracist, and queer perspectives with affect theory, psychology, and STS, the book argues that we need to abandon the thinking/feeling binary altogether. Science—and all other forms of knowledge-making—are necessarily defined by feeling at every level.

I am grateful that the committee has also highlighted what I see as one of the most vital dimensions of the book—its attempt to think through the crisis of persuasion in our current global moment, especially with respect to debates around climate change, the vestiges of race science, and the politics of secularism. I hope this book has adequately shown that although the configuration of our present moment is doubtless new, we need to move on from the nostalgic myth of a time when thinking was decisively differentiated from feeling and disinterested rational argument reigned. The way we think, reason, study, reflect, and decide has always been formed and inflected by the way we feel. Recognizing the inseparability of thinking and feeling will, I hope, deepen not only our understanding of academic inquiry, but of the many entanglements of what Foucault called power-knowledge-pleasure that shape the global political-cultural landscape today.

I am proud of Wild Experiment, but I think of it as an opening move in a conversation rather than a definitive statement. My highest hope is that it will foster more discussion going forward. I am deeply humbled to receive this award.

Congratulations, Dr. Schaefer!