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The Pasteurization of France

The Pasteurization of France

Bruno Latour

Translated by Alan Sheridan and John Law

ISBN 9780674657618

Publication date: 10/15/1993

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What can one man accomplish, even a great man and brilliant scientist? Although every town in France has a street named for Louis Pasteur, was he alone able to stop people from spitting, persuade them to dig drains, influence them to undergo vaccination? Pasteur’s success depended upon a whole network of forces, including the public hygiene movement, the medical profession (both military physicians and private practitioners), and colonial interests. It is the operation of these forces, in combination with the talent of Pasteur, that Bruno Latour sets before us as a prime example of science in action.

Latour argues that the triumph of the biologist and his methodology must be understood within the particular historical convergence of competing social forces and conflicting interests. Yet Pasteur was not the only scientist working on the relationships of microbes and disease. How was he able to galvanize the other forces to support his own research? Latour shows Pasteur’s efforts to win over the French public—the farmers, industrialists, politicians, and much of the scientific establishment.

Instead of reducing science to a given social environment, Latour tries to show the simultaneous building of a society and its scientific facts. The first section of the book, which retells the story of Pasteur, is a vivid description of an approach to science whose theoretical implications go far beyond a particular case study. In the second part of the book, “Irreductions,” Latour sets out his notion of the dynamics of conflict and interaction, of the “relation of forces.” Latour’s method of analysis cuts across and through the boundaries of the established disciplines of sociology, history, and the philosophy of science, to reveal how it is possible not to make the distinction between reason and force. Instead of leading to sociological reductionism, this method leads to an unexpected irreductionism.

Praise

  • Everything [Latour] writes is provocative, important and worth the closest scrutiny… The radical originality and wit of Latour’s approach is hugely attractive.

    —Steven Shapin, Nature

Authors

  • Bruno Latour was Professor Emeritus at Sciences Po Paris. He was the 2021 Kyoto Prize Laureate in Arts and Philosophy and was awarded the 2013 Holberg International Memorial Prize.
  • Alan Sheridan is the author of Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth. He has also translated over 50 books, including works by Sartre, Lacan, and Foucault.

Book Details

  • 292 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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