Science Is Politics by Other Means Revisited
Location 121
Date and Start Time 01 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3


  • Eve Seguin (Université du Québec à Montréal) email
  • Dominique Vinck (Lausanne University) email

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Short Abstract

Latour’s claim that “science is politics by other means” has become the underlying creed of the STS field. Yet it raises a number of fascinating questions such as the many interpretations given to it, its articulation with other approaches, its reception in different disciplines, etc. This track aims at revisiting it.

Long Abstract

Latour’s famous claim that “science is politics by other means” has shifted the focus of attention from science to politics in the STS field, and seems to have become its underlying creed. Yet it raises a number of fascinating questions and time might have come to revisit it.

Let us start with the many interpretations of it that circulate in the STS literature:

The contestation of scientific ideas

The disciplinary policies targeted at nonhumans

The reduction of scientific truth to politics

The laboratory as the locus where new sources of power arise

The struggle for the public interpretation of reality

The building of alliances between nonhumans and social interests

1. Do the above, and other, interpretations overlap, and to what extent? Are they complementary or irreconcilable? Are they equally valid?

2. How does this claim relate to other approaches advocated by Latour (actor-network theory, extended symmetry principle), and by other scholars (co-production idiom)?

3. How useful has it been for the conduct of empirical research? Do case studies in STS pay lip service to it? How does it enhance rather than impoverish our understanding of science?

4. Does Latour’s more recent work depart from it? What can we learn from the debates he had with Favre, De Vries, or Beck in the mid-2000s?

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Science is Politics by Other Means between Politics and Ontology

Author: Eve Seguin (Université du Québec à Montréal)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, we will show that over the years Latour’s thinking on science has increasingly moved away from politics and closer to ontology

Long Abstract

In his book on Bruno Latour's political philosophy, Graham Harman argues that Latour's early period is characterized by an ontologization of politics, that is, "politics is simply a metaphor for reality". In the present paper, we will put forward the opposite hypothesis.

In our view, Harman's analysis is due to his giving too much attention to Irreductions at the expense of The Pateurization of France. This excessive focus is noticeable in his omission of the paper Latour published before Pasteurization came out, which should be read in conjunction with the book.

Through a rereading of these two key texts and Latour's other major political work, Politics of Nature, we will try and show that over the years Latour's thinking on science has increasingly moved away from politics and closer to ontology.

Pasteurization offers a remarkable political theory of science. With its focus on the role of non humans in the social (dis)order, this theory can be interpreted as a way to overcome THE shortcoming of modern political theory: the conceptualization of the state as the only operator of politics. In contrast, in Politics of Nature all political actors are drawn on the turf of science, and democracy is equated with the negotiated definition of what reality is made of. Hence, the parliament of things appears as a reduction of politics to ontology.

Public Policy Analysis, the co-production idiom and the symmetry principle

Author: María Belén Albornoz (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO-Ecuador))  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to debate power through Latour’s and Jasanoff’s theoretical lenses. It will address the rol of the material and the inanimate in constituting social order, the production hybrids and the creation of new languages in which to speak of the and new ways of visually representing them.

Long Abstract

Given that the relationship between science and technology and politics has been questioned very little in political science because the studies in this area maintain a version of science that is neutral and apolitical in its service to nations, and the prevailing assumption is that technology is the product of applied science. To discuss new concepts inspired on Latour's work such as the co-production theory, it allows for the explanation of the "constitutional posture of science and technology in the political order" through values linked to technological inventions and the scientific ideas that they establish in the world and to the reason why these differences are maintained. However, it is also related to what can be obtained through science and technology, and to how individuals are willing to live their lives.

Using the notion of co-production we do not presuppose any a priori demarcations of the world, in this context, science and society underwrite the other's existence and scan be compared and contrasted with other exercises in the production of power.

Why Political Theorists Ignore Science

Author: Stephen Turner (University of South Florida)  email

Short Abstract

Political theorists ignore science because science holds itself to be outside the normal definitions of “the political,” which are in terms of enmity and the possibilities of radical democracy.

Long Abstract

Although there is a large and confused literature on science and democracy, there has been little uptake by political theorists of the topics treated as political by STS scholars. There are two reasons for this. The first is that political theory has been consumed, for a generation, by the distinction between politics as a limited empirical phenomenon governed by procedures and "the political," i.e. the category of the potentially political, understood as that which can potentially be a matter of enmity, or that which might be the subject of radical democracy. Science has a peculiar relation to these conceptions of the political. On the one hand, to be a believer in science is the mark of rationality; on the other, the actual role of science in relation to democracy is authoritarian, as expressed in the repeated claim in the public statements of science that politicians are obliged to accept the claims of science that have become part of the scientific consensus. These assertions, which have an effect on public decision-making and are therefore in some sense political, are specifically constructed to disclaim any relevance either to enmity or the possibility or revision under radical democracy.

Is Science the new Politics of the Anthropocene?

Author: David Chandler (University of Westminster)  email

Short Abstract

Latour argues that the politics of the Anthropocene depends upon the science of intricate tracing of feedback loops and their sensing, this paper explores both the meaning of science and politics in these conditions.

Long Abstract

This paper suggests that the late Latour has an understanding of science and of politics which merges both the Houses of the Modern Constitution and flattens their meaning. The science of calling to account for the unintended consequences of our actions, through the tracing and sensing of loops of feedback effects, is the science of datafication, making the unseen seeable. Latour suggests that new technological advances enable a new empirical sociology to emerge without the need for abstraction and generalisation; that the 'what is' of the world can be finally given its due. This paper will question whether Latour achieves his aim of moving beyond the modern episteme and, if so, the consequences of so doing.

Conceptions of the good life, by other means

Author: Sergio Sismondo (Queen's University)  email

Short Abstract

Science is politics by other means not only in the forming of collectives but when conceptions of the good life are at stake. In pharmaceutical companies’ uses of science to market its products, science is often a resource to change views of health, vitality and disease.

Long Abstract

The most prominent studies of "science as politics by other means" invoke politics in which collectives are formed, reshaped or divided. I focus here on politics in which conceptions of and approaches to the good life are at stake. In pharmaceutical companies' uses of science to market its products, science can become a resource to change views of health, vitality and disease, at levels of both individuals and the state. This is so even when the new alliances between humans and non-humans being promised are highly dubious, as in escalating politics of hopes and fears. The ability of science to identify new sources of power is so well accepted by interested publics that it can be successful even when role played by "science" is obscure and its targets familiar. Interestingly, in such cases, politics by other means require healthy doses of politics by the same means.

On Latour's abundant use of militaristic rhetoric

Author: Lee Nelson (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)  email

Short Abstract

“Science is politics by other means” is a play on the words of Prussian military strategists Carl von Clausewitz. This talk argues that this is just one example of militaristic influences in Latour's work, and that by attending to such instances we come to better understand Latour's politics.

Long Abstract

In Graham Harman's recent book on Latour's political philosophy (Reassembling the Political), Harman divides Latour's corpus into three stages. Throughout all of these, one thread of continuity unacknowledged by Harman and others is Latour's frequent use of militaristic language and concepts. While some have criticized particular instances of such use, this presentation argues first (1) that by revisiting Latour's oeuvre and attending to the instances of militaristic influences as integral to Latour's project, we come to better understand his politics and the strategic maneuverings found within his philosophy.

Examples of militaristic language as strategy, tactics, alliances, friends, opponents, and foes frequently appear in Latour's work, as well as such examples as the borrowed framing of "Science is politics by other means" from one of history's most famous military strategists, suggest that such terms are not merely employed but betray how Latour sees himself and his mission as being entrenched on the battle front: "[W]e should accept living in a declared state of war" (2013/2015).

A byproduct of attending to such aspects of Latour's writing is an understanding of his politics. As a deviator from using the traditional categories of Leftist Politics, while nonetheless identifying many of the common enemies of the Left (particularly the Republican Party), the second argument (2) of this presentation is that situating Latour within the Leftist political sphere becomes clearer when we bring to our understanding of Latour's corpus additional terms, ideas, and examples from military history and theory; in particular, "Pitch Battles" with "Fabian Strategies."

Proposing a dialogue between Latour and critical theory

Author: Stefan Klein (Universidade de Brasília (UNB))  email

Short Abstract

The presentation aims to discuss the dynamics under which science and politics are interwoven, by taking up contributions presented by critical theory specially on technoscience, departing from and problematizing the statement by Bruno Latour that "Science is Politics by Other Means".

Long Abstract

The paper aims to contrast the idea of reducing science to politics with that of a relative autonomy of science. To do this I propose taking forward a theoretical-bibliographical discussion, hereto mobilizing the contributions of critical theory, foremost those formulated among two different viewpoints. On the one side by Herbert Marcuse, most notably in an article from 1941 on the social implications of modern technology, where it is possible to find traits of what later on was disseminated as technoscience, as well as his works in the late 1960s, when discussing scientific neutrality and responsability. On the other side I take up the more recent contributions on autonomy as well as universality written by Syed Hussein Alatas (2006), who tries to distinguish between indigenization of science and the indigenization of its application(s). Thus my interest lies in addressing in how far and under which circumstances science has a political nucleus, nevertheless partially disagreeing that it can be presented as politics by other means. Rather, I shall argue that to understand the dynamics of politics and science as more or less autonomous spheres it is central to ascertain and establish the existing varieties between them, hereby focusing on the organization of science as embedded in certain contexts, but still being able to produce results that differentiate themselves in content and form from those originated in politics.

Constitutional Ecology of Practices. From Network to Process

Author: Niels van Dijk (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)  email

Short Abstract

A philosophy of common standing is developed by extracting a constitutional ecology from Latour’s Politics of Nature. A reinterpretation as ‘epigram’, a model for ordering roles of practices, renders it mobilizable in collaborative settings. This installs a mirror for STS and opens links with law.

Long Abstract

This contribution explores the role of constitutional thought in STS. After an interpretation of five conceptions of politics in Latour's oeuvre, it will study his non-modern proposal in the Politics of Nature and argue for a constitutional rather than political understanding. Constitutio is taken as a cause of standing together so that something is established or set up in which this cause is taken care of (institutio). Through this philosophy of common standing we arrive at a 'constitutional ecology of practices' replacing political ecology. The term highlights that different practices like politics, science, organization and law all contribute to the design of the stage and processes for composing a common world. Latour's bicameral proposal and its negative counterpart of the modern constitution are reinterpreted as 'epigrams', a heuristic notion coined in the context of ethnography of interdisciplinary research, i.e. as practical models for ordering contributions of different practices into constellations of hierarchical relationships. This renders them mobilizable as cross-cutting models for thinking about these relations in concrete collaborative settings in which different practices deal with shared issues. We can hereby also detect a shift from a network-based way of relating practices to one which is (due) process-based. In this way, epigrams can serve to explicate elements of constitutionality within STS discourses more generally and be used as a tool of reflexivity for how STS relates to other practices. This paves the way for engagement with more normative and ordering practices like politics and administration, but especially law.

Enacting anti-contextualism: excessive relationality and problems of historical continuity

Author: Reuben Message (London School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

Dissolving object (science) and context (politics) distinctions and replacing them with excessively relational, anti-contextualist assumptions privileges synchrony in research and guarantees novelty in findings. Origins, possible consequences and examples are explored with reference to trends in STS.

Long Abstract

Latour's statement "science is a continuation of politics by other means" represents an incipient anti-contextualism that has since proven highly productive in STS. I explore some implications of the implied dissolution of the distinction between object and context for successful efforts at grappling with the patterns of continuity and novelty that characterise social and historical change. Occurring today under a variety of names, including ANT, constitutive co-production, and performative theories of 'enactment', I suggest there is a strengthening tendency to develop tools fit for studying phenomena in the present (or 'in action'), in which objects are construed as transient effects coterminous with ongoing relational practices. These are usually justified by the perennial STS slogan that 'things could be otherwise' (or done 'by other means'). But in so doing they unintentionally serve to critique one version of essentialism by replacing it with another - a 'relational essentialism' - in which we risk finding ourselves suspended in a research environment characterised by presentism, synchronism, and the prevalence of methodologies practiced in discovering instances of radical novelty wherever we look, but without adequate means of evaluating or explaining it. I will refer to original research in the history of aquaculture technology in Britain in order to help illustrate my argument.

Latour on Politics: Political turn in epistemology or Ontological turn in politics?

Author: Noemí Sanz Merino (University of Balearic Islands)  email

Short Abstract

Some authors sustain that Latour’s shift implies two considerations about politics whose simultaneous maintenance is problematic. I argue that both are coherent within the development of the same project to attend to sociotechnical practices, while they are not with a political turn in epistemology

Long Abstract

According to several authors, the shift of Latour's attention to politics during the last decade is the result of his proposing a different conception about "politics" that implies, with respect to Latour's overall project, one of two situations: or his epistemological proposal has suffered a "normative turn" -which necessarily breaks with his previous Actor-Network Theory's proposals on what is considered good science-; or, otherwise, if the political implications of technoscience stated before remain valid, this limits the contribution of his current political epistemology to the construction of a more democratic science.

In this paper, I will argue there has not been a change in Latour's epistemological basis nor a lack of coherence within his thought that would undermine the democratic potential of his political epistemology.

I will show that this critique is the product of an erroneous interpretation of his own concepts about "politics". In this sense, the Latour's conceptions are being valued from what can be called the "Political Turn" in epistemology, which is proper of a Modern metaphysical view on epistemology as well as on politics.

Finally, I will argue that this shift can be interpreted, rather, as being coherent with Latour's defence of what I call the "Ontological Turn". The difference is a shift to the author's ontological and epistemological focus from technoscience to political action. We can interpret his work as the development of a wider project to attend to the socio-technical practices, which implies diverse roles and responsibilities for the analyst.

The Politics of Science in the GM Controversy

Author: Aristeidis Panagiotou  email

Short Abstract

If science is politics by other means, then how objective is the role of scientists in policy debates? This presentation aims at identifying the ways that broader interests and personal idiosyncrasies affect scientific findings and also suggest ways that this can be mitigated in policy making.

Long Abstract

If science is politics by other means, what is the role of scientists in policy debates? Can scientists be objective arbiters in science-intensive disputes or do they constitute another manifestation of vested interests? The aim of this presentation is threefold. Firstly, to discuss the ways the broader social environment affects the way that scientists produce, reproduce and debate scientific evidence. By drawing on the major strands of STS and Rob Stones' Strong Structuration Theory, it will be suggested that conjuncturally-specific scientific knowledge is only one parameter in the social construction of facts and artifacts. Other, equally salient factors, include the unequal access to resources, the networks of position-practice relations, the actors' habitus, the hierarchization of their priorities and their sentiments towards the conjuncture. Secondly, by synthesizing the work of Connie Ozawa and Brian Wynne, to assess the reasons of scientific disagreement and discuss how subjectivity and objectivity intermesh in the ways that scientists communicate their findings, design their inquiries and interpret the results. Thirdly, to suggest a particular type of consensus-based mediated dialogue as a complementary form of risk governance to formal procedures which mitigates the obfuscation of scientific findings by vested interests and ideological constructs. Concrete examples from the GM controversy will be used throughout the presentation in order to demonstrate the extent to which the scientific aspect of the GM dispute is affected by broader interests, individual motives, and personal idiosyncrasies.

A laboratory of one's own: desire of social change and professional path among young life scientists.

Author: Sara Tocchetti (University of Lausanne)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on sociology of professional identities and STS works, in particular Bruno Latour (1983) and Kerry Holden (2010), this paper questions how young life scientists problematize their professional experience and which desires of social change underlies their socio-technical projects.

Long Abstract

Cathal Garvay was described by his thesis director as a brilliant although a bit impatient student. After few months he dropped out from the Ph.D program to pursue his vision of a "biotechnology for the people." Garvey considers that contemporary public and private research are in the impossibility to solve world's pressing problems because heavily determined by financial and commercial interests. In his opinion only a biology and a biotechnology that are put back in peoples hands, a do-it-yourself biology (DIYbio), can provide solutions.

This paper works through the professional biography of Cathal Garvey and other members of the DIYBio network and their choice of setting up laboratories of one's own or community laboratories and to develop accessible, affordable and achievable tools to put biology and biotechnology in people's had. It questions how young life scientists problematize their professional experience and which theories and desires of social change explicitly or implicitly underlies the socio-technical project of a personal biology and biotechnology (Tocchetti, 2012). To do so the paper draw on three majors fields of literature, sociology and anthropology of social change, sociology of professions and professional identities and science and technology studies, with particular attention to the work of Bruno Latour (1983) and Kerry Holden (2010).

This paper draws from research carried out during a recently completed doctoral thesis and new material from ongoing research.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.