CALL FOR PAPERS: “SCIENCE IS POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS REVISITED”, Joint EASST-4S Conference, Barcelona, 31 August-3 September 2016

We invite scholars and postgraduate students to send proposals for this thematic session organized by Dominique Vinck (Université de Lausanne) and Eve Seguin (Université du Québec à Montréal).

Since its inception, Bruno Latour’s claim that “science is politics by other means” has had intense circulation in the academic world and beyond (Latour, 1983, 1988). In Science and Technology Studies (STS), it seems to have shifted the focus of attention from science to politics (Seguin, 2000). But the remarkable aspect about it is that nowadays most of us just take it for granted when, in fact, it raises a number of questions. To begin with, it is not clear what should be made of it since no two scholars understand it in the same way. Here are some interpretations found in scientific literature, with no claim to exhaustivity:

•       The contestation of scientific ideas (Edgecoe, 2001)
•       The disciplinary policies targeted at nonhumans (Seguin, 2015)
•       The laboratory as the locus where new sources of power arise (Pels, 2003)
•       The struggle for the public interpretation of reality (Vandenberghe, 2014)
•       The building of alliances between nonhumans and social interests (Brown, 2015)

1. A first cluster of questions bears upon this interpretive diversity. Do the above, and other, interpretations overlap, and to what extent? Are they complementary or incompatible? Are they equally valid in relation to Latour’s writings? Do they have equal relevance for empirical research?

2. How does this claim connect to other approaches used by Latour, such as actor-network theory (Latour, 1987) or the extended symmetry principle (Latour, 1993)? How does it stand in relation to theoretical approaches developed by other thinkers, for instance Bennett’s vital materialism (Bennett, 2010), Foucault’s power/knowledge (Foucault, 1977), or Jasanoff’s co-production idiom (Jasanoff, 2004)?

3. Why has this claim not gained currency in political theory? Why is Latour not widely regarded as a political thinker when politics pervades his entire work (Harman, 2014)? Why has it not led political theorists to embrace science as an object of study? What impact did it have in other disciplines (epistemology, sociology, etc)?

4. Do Latour’s explicit writings on politics actually depart from it? What can we learn from the debates he had with political scientist Pierre Favre, philosopher Gerard de Vries, or sociologist Ulrich Beck in the mid-2000s (Favre, 2008; Latour, 2004, 2007, 2008)?

5. Have case studies in STS paid lip service to it? How has it enhanced rather than impoverished our understanding of both science and politics? How useful has it been for the conduct of empirical research? Is it still relevant today?

We hope this thematic session will provide an opportunity to revisit one of the most exciting and challenging insights of contemporary thought.

Please contact Eve Seguin by 7 February 2016:

Dr Eve Seguin
Department of Political Science & Programme of Postgraduate Studies in STS
Université du Québec à Montréal

Bennett, Jane (2010) Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press
Brown, Mark (2015) “Politicizing science: Conceptions of politics in science and technology studies”, Social Studies of Science 45(1): 3-30
Edgecoe, Adam (2001) The Politics of Personalised Medicine: Pharmacogenetics in the Clinic. Cambridge: CUP
Favre, Pierre (2008) “What science studies do to political science: reply to Bruno Latour”,  Revue française de science politique 58(5): 817-829
Foucault, Michel (1977) Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage
Harman, Graham (2014) Bruno Latour: Reassembling the Political. London: Pluto Press
Jasanoff, Sheila (ed) (2004) States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order. New York: Routledge
Latour, Bruno (2008) “For a dialogue between political science and science studies”, Revue française de science politique 58 (4): 657-678
Latour, Bruno (2007) “Turning Around Politics: A Note on Gerard de Vries’ Paper”, Social Studies of Science 37(5): 811-820
Latour, Bruno (2004) “Whose Cosmos, Which Cosmopolitics? Comments on the Peace Terms of Ulrich Beck”, Common Knowledge 10(3): 450-462
Latour, Bruno (1993) We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press
Latour, Bruno (1988) The Pasteurization of France. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press
Latour, Bruno (1987) Science in Action. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press
Latour, Bruno (1983) “Give Me a Laboratory and I will Raise the World” in K. Knorr & M. Mulkay (eds) Science Observed: Perspectives on the Social Study of Science. Los Angeles: Sage
Pels, Dick (2003) Unhastening Science. Autonomy and Reflexivity in the Social Theory of Knowledge. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press
Seguin, Eve (2015) “Why Are Exoplanets Political? Pragmatism and the Politicity of Science in Bruno Latour’s Work”, Revue française de science politique 65(2): 279-302
Seguin, Eve (2000) “Bloor, Latour, and the Field”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 31A(3): 503-508
Vandenberghe, Frederic (2014) What’s Critical About Critical Realism? Essays in Reconstructive Social Theory. Abingdon: Routledge