Sesión temática en EASST/4S: “Science Is Politics by Other Means Revisited”

4s-easstLa sesión temática “Science Is Politics by Other Means Revisited” es organizada por Dr Eve Seguin y Dr Dominique Vinck en el marco de la Joint EASST/4S Conference, 31 de agosto al 3 de septiembre 2016, Barcelona. 

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.


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 franí§aise 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 franí§aise 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. CambridgeMA: HarvardUniversity Press

Latour, Bruno (1988) The Pasteurization of France. CambridgeMA: HarvardUniversity Press

Latour, Bruno (1987) Science in Action. CambridgeMA: HarvardUniversity 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: LiverpoolUniversity Press

Seguin, Eve (2015) “Why Are Exoplanets Political? Pragmatism and the Politicity of Science in Bruno Latour’s Work”, Revue franí§aise 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

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