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Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists…

Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society (1987)

by Bruno Latour

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In Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society, Bruno Latour works to offer a methodology for understanding the history of science, though he does not begin with the conclusion. Latour writes, “Our entry into science and technology will be through the back door of science in the making, not through the more grandiose entrance of ready made science” (pg. 4). To this end, he writes, “I simply wish to summarize their method and to sketch the ground that, sometimes unwittingly, they all have in common. In doing so I wish to help overcome two of the limitations of ‘science, technology and society’ studies that appear to me to thwart their impact, that is their organisation by discipline and by object” (pg. 16). Therefore, he writes, “We understand now why looking at earlier stages in the construction of facts and machines is more rewarding than remaining with the final stages. Depending on the type of modalities, people will be made to go along completely different paths” (pg. 25).
For his project, Latour forwards seven rules for studying science in action. Latour summarizes his first principle, writing, “The construction of facts and machines is a collective process” (pg. 29). His second rule asks followers “to look for the intrinsic qualities of any given statement but to look instead for all the transformations it undergoes later in other hands. This rule is the consequence of what I called our first principle: the fate of facts and machines is in the hands of later users” (pg. 59). Scientific instruments are necessary to Latour’s third rule, so he defines them more broadly than most. Latour writes, “An instrument, in this definition, is not every set-up which ends with a little window that allows someone to take a reading. A thermometer, a watch, a Geiger counter, all provide readings but are not considered as instruments as long as these readings are not used as the final layer of technical papers” (pg. 68). This leads to his third rule: “since the settlement of a controversy is the cause of Nature’s representation not the consequence, we can never use the outcome – Nature – to explain how and why a controversy has been settled” (pg. 99).
Latour continues, “Our fourth rule of method thus reads exactly like the third – the word ‘Society’ replacing the word ‘Nature’ – and then fuses the two together: since the settlement of a controversy is the cause of Society’s stability, we cannot use Society to explain how and why a controversy has been settled. We should consider symmetrically the efforts to enrol and control human and non-human resources” (pg. 144). Of his fifth rule of method, Latour writes, “We should be as undecided as the various actors we follow as to what technoscience is made of: to do so, every time an inside/outside division is built, we should follow the two sides simultaneously, making up a list, no matter how long and heterogeneous, of all those who do the work” (pg. 176). Of his sixth rule, he writes, “When faced with an accusation of irrationality, or simply with beliefs in something, we will never believe that people believe in things or are irrational, we will never look for which rule of logic has been broken, we will simply consider the angle, direction, movement and scale of the observer’s displacement” (pg. 213). Finally, Latour’s seventh rule offers a more fixed approach to studies of science. He writes, “What I propose, here, as a seventh rule of method, is in effect a moratorium on cognitive explanations of science and technology! I’d be tempted to propose a ten-year moratorium. If those who believe in miracles were so sure of their position, they would accept the challenge” (pg. 247). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Jul 7, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674792912, Paperback)

Science and technology have immense authority and influence in our society, yet their working remains little understood. The conventional perception of science in Western societies has been modified in recent years by the work of philosophers, sociologists and historians of science. In this book Bruno Latour brings together these different approaches to provide a lively and challenging analysis of science, demonstrating how social context and technical content are both essential to a proper understanding of scientific activity. Emphasizing that science can only be understood through its practice, the author examines science and technology in action: the role of scientific literature, the activities of laboratories, the institutional context of science in the modern world, and the means by which inventions and discoveries become accepted. From the study of scientific practice he develops an analysis of science as the building of networks. Throughout, Bruno Latour shows how a lively and realistic picture of science in action alters our conception of not only the natural sciences but also the social sciences and the sociology of knowledge in general.

This stimulating book, drawing on a wealth of examples from a wide range of scientific activities, will interest all philosophers, sociologists and historians of science, scientists and engineers, and students of the philosophy of social science and the sociology of knowledge.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:06 -0400)

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