Central Question 9

Chelsea and Lou’s Collaborative Question #9: Latour claims that ‘moderns’ segregate Nature from Culture into distinct conceptual categories. In this context, what is the meaning of Nature and Culture?

Western culture is linked to the invention of science, thus producing the ‘modern’ vision of the world. In ‘modernity’, everything non-human is named Nature, and everything else ‘made’ by humans is named Culture. The former is given the adjective of ‘transcendent’ (beyond the limits of possible ‘knowledge’); the latter is given the adjective of ‘immanent’ (within the limits of possible ‘knowledge’). With this demarcation in mind, on one hand, questions of nature are ‘represented’ by Science, on the other, questions of culture are ‘represented’ by Politics (p. 98-99). This leads to a further question; what is the relationship between science and politics?

Latour, conducts an imaginary anthropological study of a tribe of scientists where the analyst makes visible the extensive assemblage of human and non-human actors into a dynamic inter-twined network. Notwithstanding; Latour declares; “what is new is that it pretends it has not done so” (p.102). Latour leads us to believe that concepts of Nature and Culture do not have an inherent existence onto themselves. Even though, there is heterogeneity overflowing across these borders, Westerners create a false nature/culture dichotomy through the invention of the language of ‘modernity’, thus unfolding a ‘reality’ that amounts to an illusion. (p.116)

The question poses a good frame for discussion, as we attempt to explore the meaning of STS. The field of STS can be misunderstood by reducing views to the natural world or cultural world (modernist view); however, its views tend to incorporate both (premodernist view). Much like the newspaper example in the first chapter, we utilize this method on a daily basis, but academically we reduce ideas. Anthropology is used as a similar example to the newspaper of studying the world with a premodern approach, transcending the divisions between nature and culture. Latour suggests, We Have Never Been Modern, as we, as Westerners, have this “exploration of transcendence [that] makes us unmodern (p. 129)”. Therefore, we should strive to have a monist view (p. 99) to protect science from the excess of epistemology. In other words, removing this differentiation between nature and culture, we can deliver a view of science that is untainted by the Westerner’s discourse.

Re-examining Question #9

After the class discussion, Chelsea and I agreed to re-affirm the underlying rationale of our question, that is, the false nature/culture dichotomy. For instance, when Latour talks about bacteria in “The Pasteurization of France” he is referring to the mobilization of nineteenth-century French society. More specifically, Latour’s case is an account of extensive hybridization; demonstrating in details the extensive assemblage of human and non-human actors into a dynamic inter-twined network. For example, he shows how an entire array of actants was assembled: farmers and farming practices, veterinarians, bacteria, animals, and public health statistics on cattle deaths. Broadly speaking, we witness the fusion of nature with culture when farms were turned into laboratories.

Furthermore, it is worth nothing the role discourse played in extending the translation network. For instance, Chelsea and I postulated during our class discussion how members of the ruling scientific elite become thought leaders who promote their ideology under the discourse of scientific rationality; and above all, universality. In Pasteur’s case, he lead nineteenth-century French society to his way of thinking; thus convincing others to align their interests (translate) with his own interests; as a result, Pasteur’s laboratory became, in a move of purification, an obligatory point of passage.

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