Friday, March 15, 2013

Bruno Latour wins Holberg prize

Who cares? Right? I mean I've never heard of the Holberg prize, either. Well, the Holberg International Memorial Prize is awarded annually for research in the arts and humanities, social sciences, law and theology. Kind of like a Nobel Prize for the Social Sciences. Hey, okay. I guess even the social sciences deserve recognition.

And what about this Latour guy? Latour's studies have been described as a "strange mixture of sociology, anthropology and philosophy". He dabbles in research in science and technology, anthropology and metaphysics, too. What's not to love? Latour is also intrigued by the modern necessity of humans to quickly renew their own technological fabric in order to absorb the meaningfulness of their changing society. A renewal which can be confusing and fraught with woes as society judges you on just how you are renewing your technological make-up. Twitter or Facebook? E-mail or Text? Hotmail or gmail? Blogger or Wordpress. Iphone or Android or (the dreaded) Blackberry. These choices say something about you as a person and how society expects you to interact.

This is alongside a human movement to integrate more fully with the natural world. Eat vegan. Buy local. Source jobs at home. Garden organically. Teach your children yourself. And much like driving a hybrid car or using more efficient solar panels to heat your home it can be difficult to judge how much innovation it will take to go natural!

Early in his career, Latour also challenged scientific orthodoxy and the idea that scientific laboratory work was an unbiased search for truth. After studying neuroendocrinology research at the Salk Institute (in where?) he determined that typical individual experiments were produced inconclusive data and that science training largely consisted of learning to make subjective decisions about which data to keep and which to throw out. These subjective decisions were rooted in the scientists' social constructions.

What the--what? Well, I wrote this post for The Mary Sue on a study called "Men are from Earth/Women are from Earth?". The researchers of that paper pointed out that other studies regarding male/female differences did not even raise the question of whether or not men and women were psychologically different, because scientists already believed a difference existed. And scientists were looking for differences in a scientific way even though there was no scientific basis for such differences, only a social one based on the scientists' system of beliefs, oral traditions and personal cultural.

So you can thank Latour for pointing out that even science is not a purely scientific construction. It’s partly a social one. Plus he looks kind of like John Cleese. Am I right?

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