Where are the “science wars” now? Science in Action: A cross-comparison of academic institutions with Latourian political ecology

Latour, Bruno. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Harvard (2004) 0-674-01347-6  (320)

Rivers, Nathaniel. “Some Assembly Required: The Latourian Collective and the Banal Work of Technical and Professional Communication.” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. Vol. 38(3) 189-206,  2008.

Brunner, Ronald D. “Adaptive Governance as a Reform Strategy.” Policy Science. Vol. 43 301-341, 2010.

Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. University of Colorado Boulder, 2011. Web. 20 March 2012.

Science, Policy, and Outcomes. Arizona State University, 2007. Web. 20 March 2012.



Where are the science wars now?


  • Latour provides a theoretical perspective and framework (political ecology) from which, he argues, we should proceed. He details this succinctly in the “War and Peace for the Sciences” sub-section on page 217 of Politics of Nature. In summary:
    • He argues that we have “never left the state of war” and that we are still at war; we have only passed from our Naturpolitik to another because of the speed that policy demands certain decisions be made: “it seems as though we always want to move from one prematurely unified world to another, while short-circuiting the practical means for achieving this unity in every case …”
    • He concedes that, in moving forward, we have [seemingly] lost the simplification of nature, but that we have freed ourselves from the complication that simplifying/bifurcating nature and culture introduced by simplifying the situation too quickly (again, his argument can be traced to the speed in which certain decisions be made into law)
    •  His solution is that we save ourselves from (big “s”, old) Science and from the inhuman by “appealing to the sciences and to the propositions of humans and nonhumans finally assembled according to due process” and in doing so, keeping in mind that this practice, political ecology, is to-be-determined
      • Again, reducing – and thus separating – political ecology into particular objectives would be as unproductive as the Old Regime’s separation of nature and culture in the first place …
  • Because we cannot define – or separate(and thus create unaccounted for remainders) – political ecology, the universal is neither behind nor above … but ahead … to-be-determined. This means that:
    • RELATIVISM would disappear with absolutism
    • RELATIONISM would remain … the common world to be built
    • to enter into its perilous peace talks, the LOGOS can find no help except in turning to frail parliamentarians
  • Rivers’ application of Latour’s work suggests to us how a Latourian technical and professional communication could be defined and practiced:
    • He reiterates that the work of technical/professional communicators is highly rhetorical and that as a result, this implies that our obligation is to address the sciences without abdicating political authority to Science
    • Rivers cites Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives as support for his argument that technical/professional communicators ought to be practicing the work of Latourian collecting, in particular, more slowly collecting. We must not rush to agreement, but converse (perhaps inefficiently at times), hearing and doubting spokespersons, through due process, accomplishing the banal work of collecting”
  • Academic Perspectives
    • Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes is founded on a research question that reflects a Latourian “bicamerialism” [*Latour’s definition: … the distribution of powers between nature (conceived as a representative power) and politics. … a “good”/Latourian bicamerialism distinguishes between two representative powers: the power to take into account and the power to put in order]. Consortium projects are founded on the question, “How can science and technology most effectively contribute to an improved quality of life for the greatest number of people?”
  • University of Colorado at Boulder’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research is, “a response to an increase in problem-focused research at the interfaces of environment, technology, and policy, and to the growing demand by public and private decision makers for “usable” scientific information”; essentially, CSTPR’s response is an extension of Latour’s re-positioning of nature as that which ought to be freed from the pressure of producing “matters of fact”. Latour writes that, “… up to now, as I see it, philosophers have offered to clothe political ecology [i.e. divine “Science”] only in ready-to-wear garments. I believe it deserves made-to-order garb: perhaps it will find itself less constricted, and the fit a little more comfortable … [political ecology needs … couture …?]
  • Both the Consortium and the Center focus their research projects on a more intricate understanding of specific controversies; because, “… while the existing science enterprise includes highly effective mechanisms for judging the quality of science itself, there are few mechanisms aimed at understanding and assessing the linkages between scientific activities and desired outcomes. Such assessment processes are necessary to ensure progress toward goals … growing demand for accountability can be recognized in Congressional action (e.g., the Government Performance and Results Act) and in public advocacy and activism (e.g., controversies over stem cell technologies, genetically modified organisms, and environmental regulations, etc.)” (CSPO.org)

Is adaptive governance a Latourian strategy for bringing the sciences into democracy?

  • Academic and/with Political Perspectives (i.e. collaborative strategies toward policy-making/proposals)
  • As a reform strategy, adaptive governance builds on experience in an established pattern of governance (Brunner 301);  more specifically, in practice, it suggests a way of slowing down the movement, taking the time to compose a common world by diplomatic work, little by little, that verifies what propositions have in common (Latour 247)
  • By factoring a controversy/ a large national or international problem into many smaller problems (i.e. slowing down the movement; the type of composing that is argued by Latour and reiterated by Rivers) each meta-problem becomes more TRACTABLEscientifically and politically; opening additional opportunities for advancing common interests on the ground
    • What opportunities exist in adaptive governance?
      • Research becomes simplified because of intensive inquiry; what Latour would refer to as “collective experimentation” in which the collective explores the “… question of the number of entities to be taken into account and integrated through a grouping process whose protocol is defined by the power to follow up … experimentation is instrument-based, rare, difficult to reproduce, always contested … (Latour 238)
      • Participation in policy decisions by otherwise neglected groups; what Latour and Rivers emphasize as “collecting,” collecting associations of humans and nonhumans in due process (the powers of representation of the collective .. which proceeds slowly by offering the production of the common world the equivalent of a state of law …) (Latour 240)
      • Selecting what works on the basis of practical experience rather than theory; a political ecology as that which succeeds modernism’s compulsion to distinguish between facts and values, nature and politics, etc.
      •  Adaptive governance is an emerging pattern of governance that is marked by more decentralized decision-making, wider participation in policies more procedurally rational than technically rational, and by applications of local knowledge sometimes supplemented but not replaced by scientific inquiry
  • How do we practice adaptive governance?
    • By keeping it open to revision in light of additional experience through intensive inquiry; recognizing that the practice of adaptive governance is evolving and far from stabilized (because a premature stabilization of the concept under these circumstances will be misleading for the purpoes of understanding and action…)

About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550 View all posts by klangbehn

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