Bruno Latour

  On October 8, 2022, Bruno Latour, a famous contemporary French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist, died at the age of 75.
  Latour was born in Beaune, France in 1947. Philosophy was Latour’s original academic interest. Later, when Latour served in the military in Africa, he became interested in anthropology and began to envision an anthropologist-style fieldwork and ethnographic research. In the 1970s, with the book “Life in the Laboratory” co-authored by others, Latour started his creative and controversial academic journey. In the 1980s, Latour joined the Sociology and Innovation Center of the Ecole des Mines de Paris, France, and became the backbone of the “Paris School” in the sociology of scientific knowledge and an important standard-bearer of the “Actor Network Theory”. In the new millennium, Latour first moved to the Organizational Sociology Research Center of Sciences Po, and later served as the head of the Media Laboratory of Sciences Po. Roughly from this time, Latour began to care about the profound impact of human beings and their technological activities on natural ecology, and maintained this ideological attitude until his death.
construction of scientific facts

  In the late 1970s, Latour, along with British sociologist Steve Woolgar, conducted a special two-year field study of researchers at the Shack Institute, a neuroendocrinology laboratory. Through detailed observations of the work of scientists and every link in the operation of laboratories, Latour has concluded a new way of interpretation to re-understand the construction process of scientific facts. The results of this research are presented for the first time in the book Life in the Laboratory, co-authored by Latour and Woolgar. In Latour’s view, scientific facts do not come entirely from the minds of researchers, but gradually emerge from the results of repeated (probably failed) experiments, and from long discussions and comparisons. More importantly, these scientific facts gradually formed from tedious laboratory work still need to be influenced and tested by many social and political factors. It is constructed and put before the public.
  Latour’s research around the construction process of scientific facts has brought him a great reputation, and the book “Life in the Laboratory” has also become one of the founding works of the emerging academic field “Science and Technology Research”. However, Latour’s series of assertions about scientific facts have also attracted a lot of controversy, criticism and misunderstanding for him. Because of his emphasis on the importance of many non-scientific factors in the construction of scientific facts, Latour is often mistaken for a relativist or an anti-scientist. In the face of these allegations, Latour said that his research is not trying to shake the cornerstone of scientific objectivity and authenticity, but to make people better understand science as a dynamic process of intellectual production. Science is not just a series of established facts or theorems, but also a process of continuous development, self-renewal and self-correction.
actor network

  ”Actor Network Theory” can be said to be an upgraded version of Latour’s early laboratory research results. According to this theory, the construction process of science presents a “network-like” feature, researchers as the main body of scientific research constitute the actors, and various social conditions and intellectual states constitute the “network” that affects the development of science. The internet”. The “Actor Network Theory” was proposed in the “Sociology and Innovation Center of the Ecole Nationale des Mines de Paris, France” in the early 1980s. Since 1982, Latour worked at CSI, began to write about actor network theory, and gradually became the most influential propagandist of this theory.
  Actor-network theory also expresses Latour’s understanding of science as a generative process rather than a given outcome. In Latour’s view, science itself is a process, which is composed of a series of actions such as experiments, observations, discussions, and manufacturing, and the production of the staged results of this process (a certain scientific fact) must be produced with many recognition by other actors. A scientist must convince his colleagues that the scientific work at hand is worth the effort, and try to get more colleagues in the scientific community to recognize his results; outside the academic circle, he must also demonstrate to government departments that his Work does not cause public hazards, but can benefit the country and the public; he must convince investors and large companies that his scientific work is profitable and worth investing in; Products are worth consuming for. Therefore, the production of a scientific achievement (scientific fact) is the result of the joint efforts and mutual consultation of many actors who are interconnected like a network. Every actor contributes to the construction of scientific facts. From this point of view, scientific facts are no longer the monopoly of a few professionals such as scientists, but have become a multilateral, open-source open field.
  However, does such a theory mean that science no longer touches the truth, but has become a process of “one mouth melts gold”? Does this push Latour into the de facto relativist side again? After experiencing a series of criticisms of “Life in the Laboratory”, Latour is determined to find a final referee for the results of science. Only through the ruling of this final referee can a scientific judgment qualify as a scientific fact.
Facing Gaia

  In Science in Action, Latour theorizes the supersymmetric relationship between humans and non-humans. In doing so, Latour expands his understanding of the “actor” in science. Science is no longer the preserve of the human actor, but the result of interaction between two actors, human and non-human. Human beings and nature depend on each other, look at each other, and negotiate with each other. Science takes natural or non-human things as objects of observation and transformation, and at the same time invites the latter as its witnesses and judges. Science must take into account the many changes it has brought to nature, and correct its behavior according to the latter’s “feedback”. Science not only needs to consider its value and significance to human society, but also incorporate its impact on nature into the self-evaluation system for science. Latour no longer understands scientists as the leading force that promotes the history of science and even the history of the world. On the contrary, it is precisely those key non-human factors hidden in nature that determine the success of scientists and how the history of science progresses.
  This shift in perspective from human to non-human, from organic to inorganic actors, echoes a substantial adjustment of Latour’s entire academic vision. He keenly noticed that there are not only a few non-human beings that urgently need to be paid attention to by people. Modern human civilization and technology are causing irreparable harm to the earth as a whole of nature. Taking this as an opportunity, Latour began to pay attention to the earth’s ecosystem as an organic whole with its parts closely related to each other, and the tension between it and human activities, especially technological activities. In the book “Facing Gaia”, Latour borrows the symbolic meaning of Gaia, the goddess of the earth in ancient Greek mythology, to the “earth”, “earth” and even the entire earth’s ecosystem, and expounds a kind of responsibility for the natural environment. A new scientific outlook, and try to face up to the various ecological crises that human beings are currently encountering.

  In fact, the environmental ethics dimension in Latour’s thinking on science and technology is not an isolated ideological turn, but integrated with his decades of philosophical thinking. Latour’s concern and search for the current situation and future destiny of the earth are closely related to his reflection on the “problem of modernity”.
Reflection on and Reset of Modernity

  Like many philosophers and thinkers in the 20th century, Latour attributed the root of many “modernity problems” that plagued today’s human society to the dualism in the Western philosophical tradition. In Latour’s view, from water pollution, new deadly viruses, ozone layer holes and other ecological and environmental crises that threaten human survival, to the manipulation and departure of science and technology on political life, human nature, ethics and morals, all these problems are hidden behind The profound impact of dualistic thinking. Binary opposition not only means the individual opposition between the subject and the object, but also points to the overall deep split between society and nature, human and non-human. In Latour’s view, no matter what people commonly call society, culture or human beings, they all point to the monism of the subject in traditional dualism, which is habitually understood as a kind of action, change, utilization and A dynamic force for reinvention. The opposite is the collection of “things” or “non-human beings”, which is the unity of many objects in a passive and molded position in the traditional binary system of subject and object. From the perspective of environmental ethics of science and technology, all modernity issues can be attributed to this fundamental opposition between subject-object and human-nonhuman at the overall level. Whether it is a monadic individual or a group society, as a subject that constantly exerts influence on the outside and on nature, it changes the state of non-human existence.
  Latour is not unaware that his predecessors have already made various criticisms and responses to the dualistic thinking in the tradition of Western metaphysics. But in his view, people’s criticism of dualism and the bridging of opposite dualities are hardly successful. Those who try to criticize and solve the problem of binary opposition, with the ultimate goal of bridging the subject and object, either lose favoritism to the subject, or focus on the dimension of the object. Truly unites the duality.
  How, then, to overcome the problem of modernity and its dualistic roots? The solution given by Latour is a fundamental reset of modernity. It is necessary to fundamentally break the mode of thinking of modernity and reflect on dualism at the source of ideas and concepts. In a nutshell, this reset means starting from the side of “myself”, that is, the subject, human beings, through changing our usual understanding of the world as an organic whole of human-non-human beings, and then actively changing the relationship between human beings and non-human beings. The relationship between people can truly repair the broken world duality. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to reset the words and concepts of modernity. This is not a corrupt Confucian-style biting Wenjue’s words. Its purpose is to change people’s thinking by changing concepts and words, and finally reshape the actions of thinkers. Based on this intention, Latour made a series of bold attempts. For example, the concept of “quasi-object” replaces the concept of subject or object in traditional dualism, thereby highlighting that both human and non-human are in a complex state of mutual shaping and mixing in the modern world. Another example is to replace the traditional concept of “society” solidified in the unity of the subject with the concept of “collective” that includes two different attributes of human beings and non-human beings. In the same way, the above-mentioned use of the name “Gaia” to refer to nature or the earth also contains similar good intentions.

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