the 'sokal affair'

how could i not have known about this? the “sokal affair,” as it is known (apparently), refers to an event that occurred in academic history right here in new york city, where mathematical physicist alan sokal (nyu) submitted and had published an article titled, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” in the journal social text. at issue was the fact that sokal’s submission was a “hoax” – that is, he submitted an article purporting to link quantum mechanics with postmodernism, but the entire thing was apparently a prank on mr. sokal’s part. at the same time that his hoax was published in social text, sokal announced his prank in the pages of lingua franca.

below are three perspectives on the issue. i encourage readers to read each version of the “truth” and gather all “facts” necessary to make “claims” about this event.

a brief note before you do so, though: (as taken from the first piece below, and an important distinction that is often missing from critiques of social constructionism frameworks)
“First, Professor Sokal takes "socially constructed" to mean "not real," whereas for workers in the field "socially constructed" is a compliment paid to a fact or a procedure that has emerged from the welter of disciplinary competition into a real and productive life where it can be cited, invoked and perhaps challenged. It is no contradiction to say that something is socially constructed and also real.”

Professor Sokal’s Bad Joke
- written by an english professor at duke, who is also (at the time) executive director of duke university press that published social text

A Mathematician Reads Social Text
- written by a mathematician from southern Illinois university and focuses exclusively on the entire issue of social text in which the sokal hoax was published.

Idiot Savants?
- a discussion of the ‘sokal affair’ two years after the fact, written at the time of the american release of sokal’s co-authored book that brings into question the very existence and work of the likes of jacques lacan, bruno latour, jean baudrillard, and others…


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