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Bruno Latour in Pieces: An Intellectual Biography

Bruno Latour in Pieces: An Intellectual Biography

Henning Schmidgen
Translated by Gloria Custance
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 194
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  • Book Info
    Bruno Latour in Pieces: An Intellectual Biography
    Book Description:

    Bruno Latour stirs things up. Latour began as a lover of science and technology, co-founder of actor-network theory, and philosopher of a modernity that had "never been modern." In the meantime he is regarded not just as one of the most intelligent and also popular exponents of science studies but also as a major innovator of the social sciences, an exemplary wanderer who walks the line between the sciences and the humanities. This book provides the first comprehensive overview of the Latourian oeuvre, from his early anthropological studies in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), to influential books like Laboratory Life and Science in Action, and his most recent reflections on an empirical metaphysics of "modes of existence." In the course of this enquiry it becomes clear that the basic problem to which Latour's work responds is that of social tradition, the transmission of experience and knowledge. What this empirical philosopher constantly grapples with is the complex relationship of knowledge, time, and culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6373-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations for Frequently Cited Works
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Bruno Latour has many faces.¹ He is known to many as an ethnographer of the world of everyday technology who in meticulous studies has shown how seemingly trivial things, like a key or a safety belt, actively intervene in our behavior. Others know Latour as an essayist very well versed in theory who charged the philosophers of postmodernity—principally Lyotard and Baudrillard but also Barthes, Lacan, and Derrida—that their thinking merely revolves around artificial sign-worlds and who confronted them with the provocative assertion that “we have never been modern.”

    In addition, Latour is an enormously productive social scientist, who...

  6. ONE Exegesis and Ethnology
    (pp. 9-24)

    Beaune is one of France’s most famous and important wine centers. The small city in Burgundy is also the birthplace of two important scientists: in 1746 the mathematician Gaspard Monge, and in 1830 the physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey. Unsurprisingly for this region of the world, wine is one of the connecting links between Monge and Marey. Both scientists came from families of winegrowers and wine merchants—the two families had actually joined forces for a time in the late eighteenth century. And even the scientific work of these two sons of Beaune was associated: although their subjects could not have been...

  7. TWO A Philosopher in the Laboratory
    (pp. 25-39)

    Latour’s next stop was the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. From October 1975 to August 1977, as a participating observer he collected the data on whichLaboratory Life, the book he wrote with Steve Woolgar, was based—a pioneering study in the anthropology of science.

    The Salk Institute, which is located directly by the sea in an area of outstanding natural beauty near San Diego, was founded by the clinical medicine researcher and virologist Jonas Salk. In 1955 Salk had presented the first effective vaccine against paralytic poliomyelitis. Although he had drawn on the work of...

  8. THREE Machines of Tradition
    (pp. 40-53)

    Latour’s stay at the Salk Institute ended in August 1977. He then moved to Paris, to the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, to take up the position of assistant to Jean-Jacques Salomon, professor of “Technology and Society.” The Conservatoire is a venerable state institution of higher education dedicated to the advancement of science and industry, and Latour was responsible for coordinating all activities in the area of science and technology research.

    During this phase, Latour’s activities initially focused on the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (FSMH). Founded in the early 1960s, the FMSH is a humanities and social...

  9. FOUR Pandora and the History of Modernity
    (pp. 54-67)

    “The first bachelor machine was Pandora,” wrote Jean-François Lyotard in his 1975 contribution to the catalogue of Harald Szeemann’s famous exhibition on themachines célibataires. In the text, which he later included in his book on Marcel Duchamp, Lyotard recounts his interpretation of the Greek myth: Zeus had commanded the creation of the first woman, Pandora, because he was angry that fire had been stolen from heaven; Prometheus had stolen it to give to man, who made much purposeful use of it. So Zeus ordered Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, fire, and the forge to make a “machine-woman” out of...

  10. FIVE Of Actants, Forces, and Things
    (pp. 68-82)

    Latour’s conviction that Pasteur and his allies had “redefined the social link” was clearly the result of his focused analysis of late nineteenth-century biological and medical journals. Yet one can also read this statement as the consequence of a conscious decision with political undertones. Or at least this has been suggested by the British science historian Simon Schaffer in a review essay ofThe Pasteurization of France.

    Schaffer finds it somewhat remarkable that Latour identifies with Pasteur to such a degree and that he never, or very seldom, quotes prominent opponents of Pasteur, like Robert Koch, for example. Further, in...

  11. SIX Science and Action
    (pp. 83-95)

    Around 1985 the Center for the Sociology of Innovation at the Écoles des Mines in Paris became the institutional basis of actor-network theory. Although “theory of the actor-network,” “actor-network theory,” or simply “ANT” did not become common currency until the early 1990s,¹ the “author network” of actor-network theory had already formed several years previously at the Center for the Sociology of Innovation. The association between Latour and Callon was the nucleus of this network. Callon, Lucien Karpik’s successor, was director of the center from 1982 to 1994. Latour also arrived there in 1982 and stayed for almost a quarter of...

  12. SEVEN Questions Concerning Technology
    (pp. 96-113)

    A complete change of scene: Berlin. It is the ninth of November 1989. A press conference is being held. At the front of the podium representatives of the government have taken their seats at a long table. In the middle is the “Secretary for Information”; the audience is the usual assortment of journalists.

    For an hour the press conference speakers drone on about issues of economic and domestic policy. Then the question of travel regulations comes up once again, a point that had already been resolved. The government spokesperson looks tired and a bit irritable.

    The exegesis begins: the communiqué...

  13. EIGHT The Coming Parliament
    (pp. 114-132)

    The last project that the American architect Louis Kahn worked on was a parliament building complex. It had been in planning since the early 1960s. While he was building the institute in La Jolla, California, for Jonas Salk, where a few years later Latour would conduct his ethnological studies forLaboratory Life, Kahn was already working on the plans for the National Assembly in Dhaka, the capital of today’s Bangladesh. Together with his student Muzharul Islam the architect advanced this mammoth project until his unexpected death from a heart attack in 1974. The Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban, the National Assembly Building,...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 133-140)

    Bruno Latour aims to approach the material featured in his studies with radical openness and curiosity. We don’t know, he says, what a society is, what it consists of, and what holds it together.

    We do not have to decide for ourselves what makes up our world, who are the agents “really” acting in it, or what is the quality of the proofs they impose upon one another. Nor do we have to know in advance what is important and what is negligible and what causes shifts in the battle we observe around us. (PF 9)

    And we know just...

    (pp. 141-144)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 145-164)
    (pp. 165-166)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 167-176)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-178)