Science in Action

Part III

From Short to Longer Networks

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

Passage #1: (185)

Questions about causes do not deserve an answer if the existence of the effect is not proven first. There would be no special factor to discover for why people believe irrational things, if this irrationality was simply a consequence of looking from the inside of the network to its outside – after having bracketed out all the resources necessary for this network to exist, to extend and to be maintained. There is no use in having a discipline like the sociology of knowledge, that tries to account for non-scientific beliefs, if all questions of irrationality are merely artefacts produced by the place from which they are raised.

Question #1: (211-212)

“Can we say, for instance, that scientists moving through the world are more ‘disinterested’, more ‘rational’, more concerned by the things ‘themselves’, less ‘culturally determined’, more ‘conscious’ than the people they meet along the way?”

Bringing, as they no doubt do, their networks, ideologies, and the conceptions that are a consequence thereof, with them to interactions, do the explorers not conflate the issues of whom is rational/irrational as outlined by Latour? For example, the case in which the Trobriand islander’s monologue brings an entirely different perspective to the situation for the jury in court, where an outsider having knowledge concerning the land tenure system changes the verdict. I don’t just mean that the worldviews are different, as is obviously the case; but the issue of differing pools of information, ways of getting at the information, ways of translating the differences between them are necessarily influenced by the translaters themselves.

Passage #2: (226-227)

The positive loop runs all the more rapidly, if the same Brahe is able to gather in the same place not only fresh observations made by him and his colleagues, but all the older books of astronomy that the printing press has made available at a low cost. His mind has not undergone a mutation; his eyes are not suddenly freed from old prejudices; he is not watching the summer sky more carefully than anyone before. But he is the first indeed to consider at a glance the summer sky, plus his observations, plus those of his collaborators, plus Copernicus’ books, plus many versions of Ptolemy’s Almagest; the first to sit at the beginning and at the end of a long network that generates what I will call immutable and combinable mobiles.

Question #2: (218)

In the case of the geographers and the Chinese fishermen, am I understanding the concept of asymmetry and symmetry properly by positing that when they first encounter one another, a situation of symmetry occurs (based on their matching unfamiliarity with one another) and on subsequent expeditions the situation between the groups is asymmetrical? Or is it asymmetrical when they first meet due to the fishermens’ greater knowledge of the land they live on, in comparison to Lapérouse and his complete lack of said knowledge?


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