The « Sokal Affair » : cultural studies and relativist sociology of sciences
In 1994, Alan D. Sokal, professor of physics at New York University, submitted to the co-editors of the North-American university review Social text an article entitled « Transgressing the boundaries : towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity ». Published in April 1996 in a special issue on the « Sciences’ war », this article was given unexpected acclaim due to the revelations made by the author : an article which the co-editors of Social text took to be just an ordinary contribution, in fact turned out to be a parody aimed at denouncing the lack of intellectual rigour for a notable part of the American academic community. When the « Sokal Affair » crossed the Atlantic towards the end of 1996, it immediately brought up the problem of modalities of sociological investigations when using scientific practice and knowledge as subject. This article lines up the precise order of events and relates on the connections between Cultural studies and the tradition of sociology and scientific knowledge in order to finally analyse the way in which this discipline must both think with and go beyond the equivocalities of « cognitive relativism ».