Monday, January 26, 2009

Overview/Outline of Latour's _Science in Action_

The following outline was composed by Sonia Stephens and serves as an overview of Latour's Science in Action, focusing on the "rules" and "principles" of his argument.

A. Introduction
Rule 1: Study science & technology (technoscience) in action, rather than as "finished" science
• All statements are either:
o "Facts"
o Attempts to black box facts
o Attempts to "unpack" (i.e., cast doubt upon) facts

B. Chapter 1: Literature
• Texts are documents used in science to support rhetorical arguments. In these, find:
o Allies- scientists who agree with conclusions
o References to former texts (either to support yours or to refute their conclusions which may conflict with yours)
o A conclusion must be cited positively by the next "generation" of texts many times in order to become a fact

• If ignored, it does not exist; if argued with, at least it has entered the discussion

Principle 1: The fate of what we say and make is in later users' hands
• Our statements will be either black boxed or unpacked by later users
• Complex statements and stratified (technical) language are designed to preemptively meet objections
• The more dense the interconnections and types of data used (e.g., tables, graphs) the stronger the text is

Rule 2: Don't look at the intrinsic qualities of a statement to evaluate it; instead, look at its later transformations by others

C. Chapter 2: Laboratories
• If still in doubt about the work after reading the text, go to the laboratory
• Inscriptions are used as evidence- these are end products of processes, created using instruments
• To unpack all the black boxes (i.e., test all the assumptions), one may need to set up a "counter-laboratory"

Principle 2: Allies used to back up position can include other scientists as well as
experimental results, etc.

• Objects (of examination) become reified or sedimented; at this point, they become things (black boxed to some degree)

Rule 3: Since the settlement of an argument is taken to represent "Nature", one can't use an appeal to "Nature" as support to win an argument

D. Chapter 3: Machines
• Since objects (ideas, machines, etc.) are continually being transformed, one can't describe the "trajectory" of an object
o Instead use translation- the successive interpretations given to an object by factbuilders, their allies, and the allies' interests

• To enroll allies:
o Cater to their explicit interests (by making mutual cause)
o Get allies to change what they want (this is rare)
o Offer a "shortcut" to allies to get what they want

• To keep allies:
o It's imperative to figure out a way to keep all allies enrolled (or at least figure out which are nonessential and can be dropped)
o Bring in new, unexpected allies (incl. new technologies)
o Structure the network in such a way that it needs everyone to function

Principle 3: Associations are all there is- "Science", "Society" and "Technology" are not separate entities

Rule 4: Since the settlement of an argument is taken to represent "Society", one can't use an appeal to "Society" as support to win an argument

E. Chapter 4: Insiders Out

Principle 4: The more technical the inside of a specialty is, the more outside support must be drawn into it
• e.g., particle physics requires more funding, infrastructure, govt. support than auto repair
• most scientists are involved with making/maintaining these "inside/outside" links
(mobilizing resources) than direct research and development

Rule 5: When analyzing a network, don't try to decide what is "social" and what "scientific"—focus on listing all the connections

F. Chapter 5: Tribunals of Reason
• Technoscience is a network- scattered resources and people connected by many fragile lines
• Those in a network make a distinction between knowledge (ideas generated within the network) and beliefs (ideas generated outside the network)
• Scientists tend to see rationality as a straight path to knowledge; irrationality as "being led astray" (e.g., evolution is a fact; those who don't believe are irrational)- this distinction makes no mention of networks or alliances, so is misleading
• There is no "great divide" between science and nonscience or rationality or irrationality, there are only different types of networks

Principle 5: "Irrationality" occurs when people are operating in a short (simple) network- this is not "bad" because "soft" (everyday) facts suffice in most situations (and, because all knowledge is sociological, one can always work towards enrolling them in the longer networks of "hard" facts)

Rule 6: When a rule of logic has been broken, don't look at the structure of logic or "societal difference" to explain it- rather, look at the length and type of network

G. Chapter 6: Centers of Calculation
• Making knowledge is a process of accumulation for others to use later- this allows one point to become a point of reference for others
• Power, knowledge, capital, profit are useless categories- what we are interested in are connections
• Immutable and combinable mobiles are artifacts (inscriptions?) that allow accumulation of connections
• Theories act as centers that accelerate mobility and combinability of components
• Theories should never be cut off from their networks
• The more abstract a theory, the more powerful, because it acts as a stronger "center"

Rule 7: Technoscience can be explained by connections; only if this fails should you talk about minds
• Success is extending the network; failure is not succeeding (or rupturing it)

Principle 6: The history of technoscience is the history of the inventions that have
accumulated to make action at a distance possible


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