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For several years, it was thought that focusing only on culture might provide a full description of scientific progress, with research and society sharing a contradictory relationship. To resolve these tensions, Bruno Latour attempts, in his book The Pasteurization of France, to provide a means of putting science and culture together and resolving the obvious contradictions between them. Latour's conclusions are based on a close study of Louis Pasteur's (primatologist) career and the social influences that influenced it. The central principle behind Latour's arguments is that "nothing is by itself" (Latour 214). This paper states that Bruno Latour’s argument, which points to the existence of a complex network among science, nature, and the society, is built on critical and strong examination of ties existing between these components.
There is no direct connection between the ideas about science and nature itself as claimed by different scientific views in the past. The claim implies that outcomes of science cannot be natural. This idea clearly evident in traditional sciences has been interpreted in many distinct ways, all pointing to the idea of social constructivism. Given this notion, the main focus is on epistemological matters where there is a weak social constructivism (i.e. how we learn and obtain knowledge about the world). On the other side, a strong social constructivism does not recognize the independence of reality.
This scientific claim differs from Latour’s argument, which views nature as a significant aspect of the definition of science and reality as a whole. Nature is part of the society and people’s knowledge depends on the context of its creation and what shaped it as ‘nothing exists by its self’ (Latour 214). As many scientists ignored the power of nature, Latour brought forth the idea of a network model, which combined the society and nature. In this book, it is clear that reality cannot just be composed with what makes it but it is also determined by the circumstances and other entities leading to it (Latour 90). Contrary to many scientific arguments leaning only on society view, Louis’s success can be viewed to be as a result of a combination of a network of forces. These forces include the private medical practitioners as well as the military physicians, the public hygiene movement and the colonial interests. All these forces in action combined review a significant example of science in action in accordance with Latour’s arguments. Due to this claim, Latour is regarded universally as a constructionist as he claims that even if a thing has been constructed (i.e. a solid), this alone cannot define this material as reality (110). Further, as evident in Latour’s book, development of hygiene field hygiene cannot be attained by only focusing on the society by should also involve the natural environment in which it exists.
In the first section of his book, Latour gives an approach to science through Pasteur’s story and theoretical practice. In the second section of the book “Irreductions”, he shows the dynamics of interaction and conflicts of “the relation of forces” (Latour 152). Through a combination of history, sociology and the philosophy of science, Latour claims that it is impossible to distinguish between force and reason. His method leads to unexpected sociological reductionism rather than reductionism evident in many scientific and philosophical arguments. However, he argues that the success of these forces must be viewed under the constraints on the historical convergence of social forces, which are competing and the conflicting interests (Latour 155).
Through the utilization of the idea of anthological strangeness, which point out that lack of previous knowledge does not prevent a person from understanding science, Latour further clarifies his idea. The authors of Laboratory life have knowledge of science; hence have to pretend that they don’t understand science. However, by ignoring the knowledge acquired before, one cannot come across the “reality” or “the truth” in action in science (Latour 217).
Another clear evidence of Latour’s success is the adaptation of the theory of actor-network, which suggests that there is no major difference between the work of science and social activities. This theory is used even today by many modern scientists. For instance, Louis Pasteur contributes to the reduction of deaths caused by the puerperal fever and as a result, he develops rabies vaccine. This event can be seen as a direct impact of his theory and argument success. This purpose is achieved through mobilization of various elements.
From the above discussion, the reasons behind the success of Latour’s argument are clearly highlighted. The main reason can be derived from his mobilization efforts in the community, political environment and science. Bringing people to understand the importance and possible uses of science in the community has helped Louis achieve the success in his mission to develop public hygiene. To comprehend the society and its ways, it is necessary to follow it wherever it goes documenting the connections and engagements it makes. It is also clear from the laboratory life that the focus on “the social” and nature only emphasizes on the sense construction in science (Latour 245).
Therefore, by discussing of Pasteur’s venture, Latour’s argument has proven to be successful as it closed the gap between science and society. By examining the forces behind the development in medicine brought by Pasteur, Latour proved that science is a construction of the society and the natural environment in which the society cannot be ignored.
Latour, Bruno. The pasteurization of France. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.
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