MUSTS Colloquium with Trudy Dehue: Before our birth until after our death

Wednesday, April 3, 2019, 15:30-17:00 

Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Grote Gracht 80-82, Attic (3rd floor)


Before our birth until after our death:

how the fusion of verbal and material technologies shapes our life


          Trudy Dehue (Emiritus Groningen University)



Unavoidably, classifications precede scientific fact production. For instance, anyone measuring poverty will first choose a particular definition of poverty which in turn shapes the research outcomes. Hence, facts and values are not separated but intensely intertwined. Nevertheless, soft facts can harden because policies will be based on them.


Calling such classifications ‘verbal technologies’ I argue that they often merge with ‘material technologies’ and that together they can produce the hardest realities. For a long time, the science of mental disorders has been the main area I took my examples from. Currently, however, I am working on a new book showing that our life is defined by classifications from before we are born until after we die. Decisions about what counts as a unborn child or a brain dead person are classifications producing realities too. And these too may be both embedded in and shaped by technologies. In the years between our early conception and our eternal parting many more examples will occur, ranging from research into our sex or gender to that of our achievements, failures, accountability, happiness and seniority.


Most importantly, I intend to argue that the soft side of facts does not mean that all facts are mere opinions. On the contrary, there is a considerable difference between sound and sloppy science. I intend to argue that this difference not only depends on mathematical precision, as many have it, but mainly on ‘deliberative precision’, as I propose to call it. Some facts are more thoroughly warranted than others in a philosophical, ethical and social sense. The latter conclusion has implications for both science communication and science policy, but mostly for society at large.



Trudy Dehue is a sociologist of science who graduated in psychology and next in philosophy of science. Her 1990 PhD thesis arguing that the varying concepts of ‘science’ in Dutch psychology express varying political ideals was published with Cambridge University Press (Changing the Rules, 1995). In 1995, she became a full professor at the university of Groningen. In the Netherlands, she is widely known for her books published in Dutch with, in translation, the titles of The depression epidemy: On the duty to manage one’s destiny (2008) and Better people: On health as a choice and commodity (2014). Being a professor emeritus now, she continues to give invited lectures for a wide variety of organizations, and she teaches a course in the joint honors program of the two Amsterdam Universities. In addition, she is writing the book she will talk about at MUSTS.