Papers are sought for participation in a workshop examining potential conceptual or practical correlations between Bayesian approaches, in statistics, data science, mathematics and other fields, and feminist and decolonial approaches to epistemology and the cultural study of science.
The significance of Bayesian approaches
Today, versions of Bayes’ Theorem have applications in all areas of social and natural sciences, e.g. clinical drug testing or topic modelling of free text data. The increase in probabilistic approaches entailed by the widespread application of methods of statistical computing have only increased the uptake of this approach. At the core of Bayesian data analysis is the process of “Bayesian conditioning”, where a prior probability (e.g. of a hypothesis) is updated to a posterior probability resulting from new empirical observations using Bayes’ Theorem (Gelman et al.). Subjective Bayesianism in turn is a statistical and philosophical approach to reasoning about conditional probabilities that conceptualises probability as an agent’s subjective degree of belief and the grounds on which that belief might be based (Hacking; Lynch and Bartlett).
A significant body of work exists developing Bayesian approaches to epistemology drawing on broadly analytic methods (Sprenger and Hartmann; Bovens and Hartmann). This workshop aims to complement such work by drawing on different approaches to epistemology that take the political, aesthetic and social into greater account. At the same time, we recognise that there are significant distinctions to be drawn between the proposition-based and quantifying methods of statistical computation and what becomes the ‘excluded middle’ of philosophical concepts (Deleuze and Guattari).
Thus, whilst in some respects, subjective Bayesianism describes or provides a diagrammatic form of a simplified notion of “reason” (with the attendant figurations of westernness, patriarchy, coloniality and so on that may accompany it in unquestioned form) it also offers some interesting avenues for epistemological enquiry for approaches that question the loci and modalities of reason. For instance, the Bayesian formulation of subjective prior and posterior distributions might be said to challenge the traditional subject/object dichotomy of Western epistemologies. Equally, a subjective Bayesian approach could be opposed to universal knowledge claims because evidence as measured by Bayes factors is always context-specific and relative (Morey, Romeijn and Rouder). We anticipate that contributions to the workshop might draw on these and other related lines of enquiry.
Situated knowledges, pluriversal perspectives
Subjective Bayesian approaches find resonances with what Marisol de la Cadena has called ‘onto-epistemic openings’ or scholars developing Feminist Standpoint Theory and situated epistemologies have called ‘situated knowledge’ (Haraway; Harding). Situated knowledge perspectives highlight the embodied and embedded nature of all knowledge claims, where embodiedness is not limited to human embodiment, and embeddedness extends beyond sociopolitical context to include disciplinary perspectives, technoscientific affordances and other more-than-human agencies. Such a position critiques the idea of universal reason and the “view from nowhere”, which too often simply reproduces the false universalism of the white, western, eurocentric, able-bodied, male humanist subject, and suggests that ethics, epistemology and ontology are always already entangled (Barad). Furthermore, situated knowledges open a much more generative possibility of responsibility as response-ability, i.e. capacity to respond and be accountable for the knowledge claims made, and re-figure objectivity as “positioned rationality” (Haraway). This is something that resonates with aspects of the embodied, ecological, and enactive approaches to cognition and post-Bayesian approaches to it (Clark).
Situatedness, which generates multiple grounded accountable perspectives, has also been called for by decolonial and postcolonial thinkers arguing for pluriversality (Mignolo; Escobar) and relational empiricism (Verran) as onto-epistemological and methodological stances. Foregrounding ontological and epistemological difference, pluriversality is introduced as a decolonial way of addressing the multiplicity of knowledge claims and their geopolitical situatedness as an antidote to western universalism and coloniality of knowledge. Instead, phenomena are understood as relational, materialising through material-discursive practices where multiple agencies might play a role.
The workshop aims at exploring productive resonances (and dissonances) rather than snug correspondances between situated, pluriversal epistemologies and Bayesian approaches. This might include not only more general convergences and divergences, but also the role of materiality, subjectivity, situated reason, perspective (Nietzsche) measurement, probability, and other relevant concepts.
Kinds of Contributions Sought
We are interested in a broad range of approaches drawing from computing, data science, mathematics, software studies, philosophy, cultural theory, feminism, STS and other fields. These may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Speculative accounts of algorithmic reason
- Presentations or analyses of working systems or methods
- Critical engagements with modes of abstraction
- Mathematical accounts of pluriversal or situated epistemologies
- Political aesthetics of situated data science
- Artistic or design work addressing this problematic
- Critical practice and applications of (subjective) Bayesian data analysis
Proposal Submission: 30th June 2023
Response: 30th July 2023
Event: Thursday 9th November 2023
This event will be a hybrid event in order to minimise carbon and maximise accessibility.
The physical event will be held at: Goldsmiths, University of London
Please send your proposals by email to the organisers (see below).
Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths, University of London, email@example.com
Goda Klumbytė, University of Kassel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dominik Schindler, Imperial College, London and Weizenbaum Institute, Berlin, email@example.com
Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, Duke University Press, 2007.
Luc Bovens and Stephan Hartmann, Bayesian Epistemology, Oxford University Press, 2004
Marisol de la Cadena and Matrion Blaser, eds., A World of Many Worlds, Duke University Press 2018
Andy Clark, Surfing Uncertainty, Prediction, Action and the Embodied Mind, Oxford University Press, 2016
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, Verso, 1994
Arturo Escobar, Designs for the Pluriverse, Duke University Press, 2018.
Andrew Gelman et al., Bayesian data analysis, Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2014
Ian Hacking, Logic of Statistical Inference, Cambridge University Press, 2016
Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, Feminist Studies 14, 575, 1988
Sandra Harding, “Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is Strong Objectivity?” in L. Alcoff and E. Potter, eds., Feminist Epistemologies, Routledge, 1993
Scott Lynch and Bryce Bartlett, “Bayesian Statistics in Sociology: Past, Present, and Future”, Annual Review of Sociology, 45(1), pp. 47–68, 2019
Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options, Duke University Press, 2011
Richard Morey, Jan-Willem Romeijn and Jeffrey Rouder, “The philosophy of Bayes factors and the quantification of statistical evidence”, Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 72, pp. 6–18, 2016
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, Oxford University Press, 1999
Jan Sprenger and Stephan Hartmann, Bayesian Philosophy of Science, Oxford University Press, 2019
Helen Verran, Science and an African Logic, University of Chicago Press, 2001