Professor Charles Lawson
Dr Michelle Rourke
CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Fellow, Griffith University
In Laboratory Life Bruno Latour entranced us with the insight that “the (mere) process of literary inscription which make the fact possible” (p 76) was actually something socially constructed: “By contrast, we do not conceive of scientists using various strategies as pulling back a curtain on pregiven but hitherto concealed, truths. Rather, objects … are constituted through the artful creativity of scientists … we have therefore found it extremely difficult to formulate descriptions of scientific activity which do not yield to the misleading impression that science is about discovery (rather than creativity and construction)” (emphasis in original; p 129). Then in Down to Earth Latour tackles the three phenomena he calls “deregulation”, “inequalities” and the “systematic effort to deny the existence of climate change” (p 1). He then says:
“The hypothesis is that we can understand nothing about the politics of the last 50 years if we do not put the question of climate change and its denial front and centre. Without the idea that we have entered the New Climate Regime, we cannot understand the explosion of inequalities, the scope of deregulation, the critique of globalisation, or, most importantly, the panicky desire to return to the old protections of the nation-state” (endnotes omitted; p 2).
We ask what does Latour in Down to Earth now think about the “objects” that “are constituted through the artful creativity of scientists”? This intriguing question arises because Latour’s hypothesis in Down to Earth presumes that climate change is real, and not just a social construction of “the militancy of millions of ecologists, the warnings of thousands of scientists, the actions of hundreds of industrialists” (p 3). Our challenge is to reconcile the Latour in Laboratory Life and the Latour in Down to Earth.