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Critical Text: Alan Sokal's Sham Transgression

Peter Childs

in Texts

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print September 2006 | ISBN: 9780748620432
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671700 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9780748620432.003.0011
Critical Text: Alan Sokal's Sham Transgression

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In an article published in Lingua Franca entitled ‘A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies’, Alan Sokal, a Professor of Physics at New York University, announced that his article, ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’, printed in a special ‘Science Wars’ edition of the social science journal Social Text, was a hoax. ‘Transgressing the Boundaries’ had claimed that Western science was ideology masquerading as objectivity, that ‘scientific “knowledge”’ encodes a culture’s power relations, and that ‘physical “reality”’ is as much a socio-linguistic construct as is social reality. To prepare the ground for revealing his article as bogus, Sokal had peppered it with what he knew or believed to be preposterous assertions, scientific falsehoods, and logical errors. In ‘A Physicist Experiments’, he therefore exposed his earlier article as, according to his intention, ‘a melange of truths, half-truths, quarter-truths, falsehoods, and syntactically correct sentences that have no meaning whatsoever.’ His aim was to reveal postmodernism, as he understood it, as itself an insidious ideology; one which the non-refereed journal Social Text had accepted so fully that it was willing to publish an article that had no intellectual merit merely because it toed their party line.

Keywords: Reading Postmodernism; Alan Sokal; Sokal Affair; Social Text

Chapter.  6003 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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