Science in Action: Part II

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.

Question # 1:
“In the diffusion model, this (a Diesel rusting on a dock in an underdeveloped nation) would be accounted for in terms of the resistance, the passivity or the ignorance of the local culture. Society or ‘social factors’ would appear only at the end of the trajectory, when something went wrong. This has been called the principle of asymmetry: there is appeal to social factors only when the true path of reason has been ‘distorted’ but not when it goes straight.” (page 136)

How can you “ignore” that which is essential throughout the construction of a machine? If it wasn’t for the society of consumers, would there be a starting point for those who are constructing the machine?

Passage # 1:

(140-141) “Understanding what facts and machines are is the same task as understanding who the people are. If you describe the controlling elements that have been gathered together you will understand the groups which are controlled. Conversely, if you observe the new groups which are tied together, you will see how machines work and why facts are hard. The only question in common is to learn which associations are stronger and which weaker. We are never confronted with science, technology and society, but with a gamut of weaker and stronger associations; thus understanding what facts and machines are is the same task as understanding who the people are.”

Question # 2:
(page 141-142) “I presented our third rule of method: Nature cannot be used to account for the settlement of controversies, because it is only after the controversies have settled that we know what side she is on. Nature thus lies behind the facts once they are made; never behind facts in the making.”

What scientists are doing is discovering facts, discovering what Nature is. Nature accounts for the settlement of controversies. Facts do not take “sides”; they either are, or they aren’t. Nature has been explained, or it hasn’t, but it is certainly there all the time, unlike the artificial groups Latour describes. Do you agree with the above brief passage, or do you have an alternate explanation? The same is said of society, do you agree with these assessments that put nature and society into a definition-like box, where you can’t use the concept to account for the concept, much as you can’t use a word in its own definition?

Passage # 2:

(page 157) “The young kids’ interests, those of West, of De Castro and of the Data General Board of Directors were all aligned, at least for a few months. This alignment is precisely what is lacking in the two other examples. The Church, the universities, the gentry, the state, the public, the amateurs, the fellow geologists, all have mixed feelings about letting Lyell develop an independent geology; when Lyell talks about his interests, no one else at first feels that he means ‘their interests’ as well. Difficult negotiations are still going on to keep all these contradictory wills in line. In Joao’s case, it is clear that the interests are all at loggerheads. When he talks about his goals, no one else in the whole world thinks they are theirs as well: neither the military, nor industry, nor his colleagues. The relation between Joao and the others is so unambiguous that no community of interest is possible.”


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