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May 2004
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Pandora's Hope

Pandora's Hope, Essays on the Reality of Science Studies, Bruno Latour, Harvard University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-674-65336-X, pbk, 324pp.


Bruno Latour is one of the targets of Alan Sokal's Fashionable Nonsense (see http://richardhartersworld.com/cri/1998/fashion.html#fn_latour for a short summary of the chapter on Latour.) Since the field of Science Studies is a focal point of the "Science Wars" I thought it would be interesting to take a detailed look at Latour's latest offering.

As a practical matter it is essential to read the glossary first. The glossary occupies some nine pages, pp 308-311, with sixty one entries. There are a number of terms, e.g., circulating reference, that have specific meanings within the text. Some are drawn from diverse fields such as semiotics and others are idiosyncratic.

When I finished reading the book I was quite disappointed with it - if I had read only half of it I would have thought it interesting. The catch is that the book is written with an agenda which only becomes fully explicit in the latter part of the book, that agenda being to defend Science studies from accusations made against it, and to make various large claims for the virtues of science studies.

Few care. Science studies is, after all, a fairly small pond.

Briefly (and not especially accurately) science studies purports to apply the methods of cultural anthropology to science as culture. It is of no great consequence save to those who specialize in it and to those who fuss about it. It has, however, acquired a certain amount of celebrity due in large part to the stirs over Higher Superstition, the Sokal hoax and its successor Fashionable Nonsense. There is a rather wide cast of characters in said impeachments and it won't do to mix up which runny nosed child is traipsing through the ivied halls with which pair of muddy sneakers.


This page was last updated May 5, 2004.

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