Laboratory Life

Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts

Bruno Latour
Steve WooIgar
Introduction by Jonas Salk
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bbxc
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  • Book Info
    Laboratory Life
    Book Description:

    This highly original work presents laboratory science in a deliberately skeptical way: as an anthropological approach to the culture of the scientist. Drawing on recent work in literary criticism, the authors study how the social world of the laboratory produces papers and other "texts,"' and how the scientific vision of reality becomes that set of statements considered, for the time being, too expensive to change. The book is based on field work done by Bruno Latour in Roger Guillemin's laboratory at the Salk Institute and provides an important link between the sociology of modern sciences and laboratory studies in the history of science.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2041-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. 9-10)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 11-14)
    Jonas Salk

    Scientists often have an aversion to what nonscientists say about science. Scientific criticism by nonscientists is not practiced in the same way as literary criticism by those who are not novelists or poets. The closest one comes to scientific criticism is through journalists who have had an education in science, or through scientists who have written about their own personal experiences. Social studies of science and philosophy of science tend to be abstract or to deal with well-known historical events or remote examples that bear no relationship to what occurs daily at the laboratory bench or in the interactions between...

  6. Chapter 1 FROM ORDER TO DISORDER
    (pp. 15-42)

    5 mins. John enters and goes into his office. He says something very quickly about having made a bad mistake. He had sent the review of a paper.… The rest of the sentence is inaudible.

    5 mins. 30 secs. Barbara enters. She asks Spencer what kind of solvent to put on the column. Spencer answers from his office. Barbara leaves and goes to the bench.

    5 mins. 35 secs. Jane comes in and asks Spencer: “When you prepare for I. V. with morphine, is it in saline or in water?” Spencer, apparently writing at his desk, answers from his office....

  7. Chapter 2 AN ANTHROPOLOGIST VISITS THE LABORATORY
    (pp. 43-90)

    When an anthropological observer enters the field, one of his most fundamental preconceptions is that he might eventually be able to make sense of the observations and notes which he records. This, after all, is one of the basic principles of scientific enquiry. No matter how confused or absurd the circumstances and activities of his tribe might appear, the ideal observer retains his faith that some kind of a systematic, ordered account is attainable. For a total newcomer to the laboratory, we can imagine that his first encounter with his subjects would severely jeopardise such faith. The ultimate objective of...

  8. PHOTOGRAPH FILE
    (pp. 91-104)
  9. Chapter 3 THE CONSTRUCTION OF A FACT: THE CASE OF TRF(H)
    (pp. 105-150)

    In the last chapter, we portrayed an anthropologist making his way through the laboratory and constructing an account in his own terms of the activity he saw. We presented the laboratory as a system of literary inscription, an outcome of which is the occasional conviction of others that something is a fact. Such conviction entails the perception that a fact is something which is simply recorded in an article and that it has neither been socially constructed nor possesses its own history of construction. Understanding the nature of a fact in these terms would obviously hinder any attempt to implement...

  10. Chapter 4 THE MICROPROCESSING OF FACTS
    (pp. 151-186)

    Our initial visit to the laboratory established the central importance of literary inscription for laboratory activity: the work of the laboratory can be understood in terms of the continual generation of a variety of documents, which are used to effect the transformation of statement types and so enhance or detract from their fact-like status. In the last chapter, our historical examination of the genesis of a single fact demonstrated the influence of laboratory context in delimiting the number of alternative statements which could be made: only by virtue of a crucial shift between one network and another could a particular...

  11. Chapter 5 CYCLES OF CREDIT
    (pp. 187-234)

    Each of the preceding chapters has portrayed laboratory life from a somewhat different perspective. The anthropological approach of Chapter 2 demonstrated the importance of literary inscription in the laboratory; the historical treatment in Chapter 3 showed the dependence of facts on their construction within a particular material context; and Chapter 4 encroached on the ground of epistemology in order to demonstrate the microprocesses at work in the constitution of phenomena such as “having ideas,” “using logical arguments,” and constructing “proofs.” One advantage of this style of presentation is that, for the most part, we have been able to cut across...

  12. Chapter 6 THE CREATION OF ORDER OUT OF DISORDER
    (pp. 235-262)

    In examining the construction of facts in a laboratory, we have presented the general organisation of the setting as constituted by someone unfamiliar with science (Chapter 2); we showed how the history of some of the laboratory’s achievements could be used to explain the stabilisation of a “hard” fact (Chapter 3); we then analysed some of the microprocesses by which facts are constructed, looking especially at the paradox of the term fact (Chapter 4); we then turned to the individuals in the laboratory in an attempt to make sense both of their careers and the solidity of their production (Chapter...

  13. REFERENCES
    (pp. 263-272)
  14. POSTSCRIPT TO SECOND EDITION (1986)
    (pp. 273-286)

    There is a traditional tendency to chase and hound the “real” meaning of texts. Years after the initial publication of a volume, defenders and critics alike continue to argue over “what was actually intended” by its authors. As a welcome relief from this spectacle, literary theory has increasingly disavowed this kind of textual criticism. The current trend is to permit texts a life of their own. The “real” meaning of a text is recognised as an illusory or, at least, infinitely renegotiable concept. As a result, “what the text says,” “what really happened” and “what the authors intended” are now...

  15. ADDITIONAL REFERENCES
    (pp. 287-290)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 291-294)