French philosopher and anthropologist Bruno Latour (75) has died. He was considered one of France’s most important contemporary thinkers and one of the greatest innovators in the social sciences.
Latour tackled such diverse topics as the (social) construction of scientific facts and was one of the founders of actor-network theory. In recent years, he has paid much attention to climate change.
Latour was born in 1947 in Pune to a family of wine producers. He studied philosophy, sociology and anthropology at the universities of Dijon, Tours and Paris. Since 1982 he has taught at the prestigious engineering school École Nationale supérieure des mines and since 2006 at the elite university Institut d’études politiques (Sciences Po).
In 1979, he gained fame among his colleagues through the book Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts, He wrote with the British sociologist Woolgar about the method of producing research results in a laboratory. Contrary to popular belief, according to Latour, it was also a social process in which rhetoric, partisanship and group behavior played an important role.
In the 1990s he developed actor network theory with Michael Colon and John Law. It is an approach that analyzes social phenomena as networks in which not only people but also things play a role. Differences arise only after correlation. According to actor-network theory, people and things form, as it were, the ‘atoms’ from which each larger whole is built.
In the later years of his career, Latour focused entirely on climate change and the question of how climate deniers had undermined that field of science. His point of departure was that science and politics could no longer be separated. Scientists cannot be unbiased on issues with strong political implications, such as race, IQ and climate, says Latour. According to him, this doesn’t mean you can’t do good science, but you need to be open about your assumptions, methods and conclusions.
In his book Face to face with Gaia As of 2017, he stated that nature is no longer the sustainable backdrop for our actions, but we ourselves are part of it. “We have entered the drama of geohistory, the age of anthropomorphism. In that age, the ecological consequences of human activities come strongly to the fore,” Latour said.
Latour’s work has received several awards, including the Holberg Prize in 2013 and the Kyoto Prize last year. He has also received several honorary degrees from universities in Sweden, Switzerland, Great Britain and Canada.
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