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In Conversation with Bruno Latour

Amita Baviskar

Professor Bruno Latour discussed his recent work and its relevance for Indian research in a conversation with Amita Baviskar. AB: Even though India is in the midst of raging controversies around climate change, transgenic crops, nuclear energy, and medical technologies, many social science researchers hesitate to enter the field of Science and Technology studies because these subjects seem to require prior technical training.. BL: But isn't that true of the social sciences too? I would imagine that the study of Sanskrit texts is far more difficult than atomic physics, which in the end is a narrow discipline, doing small things. And law, especially law—in my experience, studying law is intrinsically difficult and very boring. It took me years. The price of entry into law is mind-boggling. Unlike science where there are experiments that you can see, the point of which can be explained so that you understand what is going on. AB: Isn't there an additional problem that the complexity of a science-related controversy is compounded by the inherent uncertainty of natural and social phenomena as well as the fact that our knowledge of them continues to be spotty? That the data are highly inadequate? BL: Spottiness is in the nature of the beast! It's like a leopard; it will always have spots. We may never have all the facts, but what we can do is to draw dotted lines between them to show how political positions are produced and which institution represents whom. Every single disease, crop, water body, or disappea-ring species is today represented by some quasi-political organization. Every controversy has activists, scientists, and government agencies mixed up in it. If we map this parliament of things and who speaks for them and what values they represent, we get a set of empirical and practical tools for making visible what is going on. AB: The absence of scientific certainty and consensus is today cited as a reason for not acting, whether against climate change or the introduction of transgenic crops… BL: Why should we assume that action can only follow certainty? That we must know all the facts beforehand? We were never sure that there would be a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, yet we acted on that possibility. There was a doubt about whether smoking was linked to cancer. We were not sure but we acted. Not being sure is a good reason for why ...

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