Common Knowledge 25 (1-3):126-142 (2019)

Latour in this essay criticizes and abandons the approach to science studies—in which the object of study is presumed to be inert and passively circulating amid networks of practices, institutions, authorities, and historical events — that he took in “The ‘Pédofil’ of Boa Vista,” an article published in the spring 1995 issue of Common Knowledge. Here he argues that Whitehead’s neglected text Process and Reality offers the possibility of a radical historical realism that puts the scientific object and the scientist’s laboratory on the same footing. His case study is of the Lille laboratory where, in 1858, Pasteur identified a yeast responsible for lactic fermentation. Even as Pasteur acted to cause the yeast to emerge, he felt—in a way that practicing scientists often attest—that he was “led” to do so by the propensity of things. Whitehead enables us to understand that it was not Pasteur alone who altered the representation of fermentation; the fermentation itself modified its manifestation. Hence there is historicity not only on the human side of scientific discovery—the story of Pasteur and his yeast—but also historicity on the nonhuman side—the story of the yeast and its Pasteur.
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DOI 10.1215/0961754x-7299198
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