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Bruno Latour (born June 22, 1947, Beaune, France) is a French sociologist of science, anthropologist and an influential theorist in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS)[1]. After teaching at the École des Mines de Paris (Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation) from 1982 to 2006, he is now Professor and vice-president for research at the Institut d'études politiques de Paris (2007)[2], where he is associated with the Centre de sociologie des organisations (CSO).

He is best known for his books We Have Never Been Modern (1991; English translation, 1993), Laboratory Life (with Steve Woolgar, 1979) and Science in Action (1987)[3]. Although his studies of scientific practice were at one time associated with social constructionist[3] approaches to the sociology of science, Latour has diverged significantly from such approaches. Along with Michel Callon and John Law, Latour is one of the primary developers of actor-network theory (ANT), a constructionist approach influenced by the ethnomethodology of Harold Garfinkel, the generative semiotics of Greimas, and the maverick sociology of Durkheim's rival Gabriel Tarde.

BiographyEdit

As a student, Latour originally focused on philosophy and was deeply influenced by Michel Serres. He quickly developed an interest in anthropology, and undertook fieldwork in Côte d'Ivoire which resulted in a brief monograph on decolonization, race, and industrial relations[3]. From there, Latour shifted his research interests to focus on laboratory scientists. Latour rose in importance following the 1979 publication of Laboratory Life: the Social Construction of Scientific Facts with co-author Steve Woolgar. In the book, the authors undertake an ethnographic study of a neuroendocrinology research laboratory at the Salk Institute[3]. This early work demonstrated that naïve descriptions of the scientific method, in which theories stand or fall on the outcome of a single experiment, are inconsistent with actual laboratory practice. In the laboratory, a typical experiment produces only inconclusive data that is attributed to failure of the apparatus or experimental method, and that a large part of scientific training involves learning how to make the subjective decision of what data to keep and what data to throw out, a process that, to an untrained outsider, looks like a mechanism for ignoring data that contradicts scientific orthodoxy.

After a research project examining the sociology of primatologists, Latour followed up the themes in Laboratory Life with Les Microbes: guerre et paix (published in English as The Pasteurization of France in 1984). In it, he reviews the life and career of one of France's most famous scientists Louis Pasteur and his discovery of microbes, in the fashion of a political biography. Latour highlights the social forces at work in and around Pasteur's career and the uneven manner in which his theories were accepted. By providing more explicitly ideological explanations for the acceptance of Pasteur's work more easily in some quarters than in others, he seeks to undermine the notion that the acceptance and rejection of scientific theories is primarily, or even usually, a matter of experiment, evidence or reason. Another work, Aramis, or, The Love of Technology focuses on the history of an unsuccessful mass-transit project. More recently Latour has turned to more "theoretical" and programmatic works. In the late 1980s and 1990s, he was one of the key thinkers in actor-network theory. His more theoretical books include Science in Action, Pandora's Hope, and perhaps his most popular work, We Have Never Been Modern.

Latour and Woolgar produced a highly heterodox and controversial picture of the sciences. Drawing on the work of Gaston Bachelard, they advance the notion that the objects of scientific study are socially constructed within the laboratory—that they cannot be attributed with an existence outside of the instruments that measure them and the minds that interpret them. They view scientific activity as a system of beliefs, oral traditions and culturally specific practices— in short, science is reconstructed not as a procedure or as a set of principles but as a culture. Latour's 1987 book Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society is one of the key texts of the sociology of scientific knowledge.

After spending more than 20 years at the Centre de sociologie de l'innovation at the École des Mines in Paris, Latour moved in 2006 to the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, where he is the first occupant of a Chair named for the aforementioned Gabriel Tarde. Latour is related to a well-known family of winemakers from Burgundy and is not associated with the similarly-named estate in Bordeaux. In recent years he has also served as one of the curators of successful art exhibitions at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, Germany, including "Iconoclash" (2002) and "Making Things Public" (2005).

On May 22, 2008, Latour has been awarded a honorary doctorate by the Université de Montréal, on the occasion of an organizational communication conference held in honor of the work of James R. Taylor, on whom Latour has had an important influence.

Central conceptsEdit

Main works Edit

ReferencesEdit

  1. See Steve Fuller, "Science and Technology Studies", in The Knowledge book. Key concepts in philosophy, science and culture, Acumen (UK) and McGill-Queens University Press (NA), 2007, p. 153.
  2. See Latour's "Biography" Bruno Latour's official website
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Heather Vidmar-McEwen,"Anthropologists biographies: Bruno Latour", "Anthropologists biographies: Bruno Latour", Indiana University Anthropology Department

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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