eyes of our critics the ozone hole above our heads, the moral law
in our hearts, the autonomous text, may each be of interest, but
only separately. That a delicate shuttle should have woven together
the heavens, industry, texts, souls and moral law - this remains
uncanny, unthinkable, unseemly."
Have Never Been Modern, p. 5)
... his early
work in anthropology
from the typical French provincial bourgeoisie, from Burgundy where
my family has produced wine for generations, and my only ambition
is that people would say "I read a Latour 1992" with the
same pleasure as they would say "I drank a Latour 1992"!
I have still a long way to go, as you see. (By the way, do not confuse
Chateau-Latour, which is a Bordeaux vineyard, with Louis Latour,
which is a grower in Burgundy.) I am not from the Ecole Normale;
this is important to mention. I was educated in Dijon and I am from
the provinces, but it is true I have been brought up in the same
French tradition-the tradition of being idiosyncratic. I was trained
in philosophy and Biblical exegesis, and then I went to Africa for
my military service--a sort of French Peace Corps--and there I discovered
the social sciences and was trained in anthropology the proper way
(by doing it). And then, because I wanted to go to the States to
see the opposite part of the world, I decided to do an anthropology
of science. From the beginning I felt my interest in philosophy,
theology, and anthropology was the same thing--that is, I was trying
to account for the various ways in which truth is built, so in that
sense my current work on the theory of enunciation is an old interest,
grounded in theology and philosophy."
From: T. Hugh
Crawford, "An Interview with Bruno Latour," Configurations
1 (1993): 247-268. Interview conducted in October, 1990.
... and his
metamorphosis into an anthropologist of science
October 1975, one of us entered Professor Guillemin's laboratory
for a two-year study of the Salk Institute. Professor Latour's knowledge
of science was non-existent; his mastery of English was very poor;
and he was completely unaware of the existence of the social studies
of science. Apart from (or perhaps even because of) this last feature,
he was thus in the classic position of the ethnographer sent to
a completely foreign environment. Since the question has often been
asked, it is useful to begin with a few words about how he got to
the Salk Institute in the first place. While in the Ivory Coast,
as a researcher in the sociology of development with the French
research institution ORSTOM, he had been asked to explain why it
was so difficult for black executives to adapt to modern industrial
life (Latour, 1973). He found a vast literature on African philosophy
and in comparative anthropology. Right from the start, however,
it seemed that features were attributed a little too quickly to
the African 'mind,' and that these could be more simply explained
by social factors. For example, the young boys in technical schools
were accused by their white teachers of being unable to "see
in three dimensions." This was regarded as a serious deficiency.
It turned out, however, that the school system (an exact replica
of the French system) introduced engineering drawing to its pupils
before they did any practical work on engines. . . . Stimulated
by interaction with remarkable anthropologists like Marc Augi and
other colleagues at ORSTOM, a rudimentary research programme took
shape. What would happen to the Great Divide between scientific
and prescientific reasoning if the same field methods used to study
Ivory Coast fawners were applied to first-rate scientists? Two years
before, the would-be anthropologist of Science had met Professor
Guillemin (like him, a native of Burgundy). Guillemin praised the
openness of the Salk Institute and had invited him to carry out
an epistemological study of his laboratory, providing he secured
his own source of funding."
Laboratory Life, pp. 273-74
... the social
scientist in the laboratory
an outside observer first expresses interest in the activities of
working scientists, he can expect one of a variety of different
reactions. If he is a fellow professional scientist working in a
different field, or if is a student working towards final admission
into the scientific profession, the outsider will usually find that
his interest is easily accommodated. Barring any circumstances involving
extreme secrecy competition between the parties, scientists can
react to expressions of interests by adopting a teaching role. Outsiders
can thus be told the basic principles of scientific work in a field
which is relatively strange to them. However, for outsiders who
are completely ignorant of science and do not aspire to join the
ranks of professional scientists, the situation is rather different.
The most naive (and perhaps least common) reaction is that nonscientific
outsiders simply have no business probing the activities of science.
More commonly, although working scientists realize that a variety
of nonscientific outsiders, such historians, philosophers, and sociologists
can and do have professional interests in science, the precise point
of their questions and observations is a source of some bewilderment.
This is understandable in that working scientists do not normally
possess more than outline knowledge of the principles, theories,
methods, and issues at stake within disciplines other than their
own. An observer who declares himself to be an 'anthropologist of
science' must be a source of particular consternation."
Laboratory Life, pp. 19
... and the observer's breakthrough
point, the observer felt that the laboratory was by no means quite
as confusing as he had first thought. It seemed that there might
be an essential similarity between the inscription capabilities
of apparatus, the manic passion for marking, coding, and filing,
and the literary skills of writing, persuasion, and discussion.
Thus, the observer could even make sense of such obscure activities
as a technician grinding the brains of rats, by realizing that the
eventual end product of such activity might be a highly valued diagram.
Even the most complicated jumble of figures might eventually end
up as part of some argument between 'doctors.' For the observer,
then, the laboratory began to take on the appearance of a system
of literary inscription."
Laboratory Life, pp. 51-52.
... from inscription
We do not think. We do not have ideas (2.5.4). Rather, there is
the action of writing, an action which involves working with
inscriptions that have been extracted; an action that is
practiced through talking to other people who likewise write,
inscribe, talk, and live in similarly unusual places; an action
that convinces or fails to convince with inscriptions which
are made to speak, to write, and to be read (3.1.0, 3.1.9). . .
it were possible to explain 'science' in terms of 'politics,' there
would be no sciences, since they are developed precisely in order
to find other allies, new resources, and fresh troops.
This is why
the sociology of science is so congenitally weak. Auguste Comte,
the father of scientism and sociology, has invented a fancy system
of double-entry bookkeeping. Science is not politics. It is politics
by other means. But people object that 'science does not reduce
to power.' It offers other means. But it will be objected
again that 'by their nature, these means cannot be foreseen.' Precisely.
If they were foreseeable, they would already have been used by an
opposing power. What could be better than a fresh form of power
that no one knows how to use? Call up the reserves! Homage to Shapin
The Pasteurization of France, pp. 218, 228-29.
...the situation of
the modern framework could have held up a little while longer if
its very development had not established a short circuit between
Nature on the one hand and human masses on the other. So long as
Nature was remote and under control, it still vaguely resembled
rhe constitutional pole of tradition, and science could still be
seen as a mere intermediary to uncover it. Nature seemed to be held
in reserve, transcendent, inexhaustiblle, distant enough. But where
are we to classify the ozone hole story, or global warming or deforestation?
Where are we to put these hybrids? Are they human? Human because
they are our work. Are they natural? Natural because they are not
our doing. Are they local or global? Both. As for the human masses
that have been made to multiply as a result of the virtues and vices
of medicine and economics, they are no easier to situate. In what
world are these multitudes to be housed? Are we in the realm of
biology, sociology, natural history, ethics, sociobiology? This
is our own doing, yet the laws of demography and economics are infinitely
beyond us. Is the demographic time bomb local or global? Both. Thus,
the two constitutional guarantees of the moderns - the universal
laws of things, and the inalienable rights of subjects - can no
longer be recognized either on the side of Nature or on the side
of the Social. The destiny of the starving multitudes and the fate
of our poor planet are connected by the same Gordian knot that no
Alexander will ever again manage to sever."
We Have Never Been Modern, p. 50.
... the modernist view of time and history
temporality has nothing 'Judaeo-Christian' about it and, fortunately,
nothing durable either. It is a projection of the Middle Kingdom
on to a line transformed into an arrow by the brutal separation
between what has no history but emerges nevertheless in history
- the things of nature - and what never leaves history - the labours
and passion of humans. The asymmetry between nature and culture
then becomes an asymmetry between past and future. The past was
the confusion of things and men; the future is what will no longer
confuse tbem. Modernization consists in continually exiting from
an obscure age that minded the needs of society with scientific
truth, in order to enter into a new age that will finally distinguish
clearly what belongs to atemporal nature and what comes from humans,
what depends on things and what belongs to signs. Modern temporality
arises from a superposition of the difference between past and future
with another difference, so much more important, between mediation
We Have Never Been Modern, p. 71.
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