An Anthropology of the Laboratory Life: Bruno Latour’s Science Studies and their Metaphysical Consequences

Although critiques of positivism in social science literature have overturned the privileged position of science, contemporary techno-science has been penetrating all aspects of our lives. All life areas including production of everyday gadgets to political decision making processes has been determined by science and technology. Some of the most important contributions to understanding the nature of today’s technoscience come from the sociology of science. This article examines, focusing on Bruno Latour’s studies on laboratories, the formation of actor-network theory as a new approach to social sciences, rising from the consequences of laboratory studies developed by the literature of sociology of science, and metaphysical consequences of this theory. In the first section, I try to display the background, in which Latour and Woolgar’s book Laboratory Life is situated, by giving the brief summary of history of the development of sociology of science. Then I panoramically describe the dense discussions in the sociology of science during the 1970s. Thus, I show how Latour differentiates himself from the Edinbugh School’s sociology of scientific knowledge and the Mertonian and Kuhnian sociology of science, thus offering a new approach to the subject. In the second section I review Woolgar and Latour’s laboratory studies in the context of the sociology of science literature. Here I also explain Latour’s findings on the nature of the modern science by means of a discussion on his observations in a neurobiology laboratory. I examine how Latour sees all laboratory practices as an inscription system, how he frames scientific production as a grammatical operation and how he depicts scientists as craftsmen in pursuit of credit. Then I explain his generalized symmetry approach and his critiques on the modern nature-culture dichotomy. Finally, by addressing the philosophical implication of these works, I discuss the significance of the actor-network theory’s realist-constructivist and object-oriented metaphysics and its position within the contemporary philosophical milieu. I thus examine how Latour has developed a post-phenomenological relational approach by deactivating such notions as consciousness, the self, subject, the human and so on. My main argument is that Latour’s anthropological investigation on the social dimension of science has eventually turned into a systematic philosophy and a sociological methodology. I propose that the Latourian object-oriented, constructivist and realist ontology offers new possibilities to conceiving a new mode of subjectivity beyond the notions of the subject or the human. Metin DEMİR
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